Interviews

 

Scott Ritchie

Scott Ritchie

How I staged Cinderella by Scott Ritchie

Scott Ritchie staged the first pantomime in Bath following the death of panto legend Chris Harris. Amanda Cornwallis asked the questions

Putting on a panto like Cinderella is big job at the Theatre Royal Bath. So where do you start with Cinderella?
I start with a script, and for this particular production myself and Jon Monie we had a template with all the basic stuff in and then we updated certains things like the gags. Obviously you’ve got to move with the times. I’m not from Bath so it was good to have Jon as he knew all the local references. I also keep updated with the producer as to who is going to be coming into the company so I work from the script and base some of the dialogue on some of the musical numbers. Myself and Jon checked on the lyrics because we like to put in modern songs as well as traditional. Some of the modern stuff needs to be panto-ed up as it can be a bit graphic. So I start with the script and cast members and go from there.
Do you know what you are dealing with in terms of the cast or do you cast it as you go along?
We usually have the key players in place early on and I was brought on board in April when at that point I knew that we had Mel, Dani and Jon. Fortunately the rest of company I had previously worked with as this is my third year with UK Productions. I did a Cinderella a couple of years ago in Malvern.
Chris Harris was a legend in Bristol and Bath. Did you feel pressure leading up to the show that it would meet his expectations from the great pantomime in the sky?
I’ve had over 30 years in panto so I delivered the best show I could for the audience and for the Theatre Royal in Bath, as I would do wherever I was directing in the country. Obviously it was there. I didn’t know Chris and he had an amazing reputation, but people were very generous and didn’t want to force too many things upon me. Funnily people including the lady in the dancing school said I reminded them of him quite a lot in my approach to work. So in a way it didn’t feel like pressure it felt more like an honour. There was pressure leading up to the show but not that pressure, more the pressure to produce a greatr show. Chris had a great reputation, and it is a myth that panto performers are really acting, as the script is tightly rehearsed down to every adlib. Panto is a valid form of theatre as it pays tribute to all the rest. I knew of Chris’a pedigree and the people who had worked with him so I felt in a very good place.
This year’s show was noted for its dance content. It was one of the lasting impressions I had. How did you work with the choreographer to make it so slick?
I trained as a dancer, so my background is in choreography, so even though I’ve moved into directing now I hang a lot of the show on music and dance. The choreographer Lewis Butler did most of the work and I did most of the staging and I think as a result I have a very keen eye. Some directors direct and then hand all of the movement over to the choreographer. The show is very movement based and so I hope the slickness in the panto came from my background as a choreographer.
What was the first show you saw and did it inspire you?
The very first show I saw was a pantomime version of Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves at Manchester Free Trade Hall. I was seven and my grandad took me to see it, and that was when I made my mind up that I wanted to go into show business.
Scott Ritchie trained at the Italia Conti academy and the Bird College and since then has played an ugly sister, sung, danced, acted, worked as a choroegrapher and now as a director. He teaches as the Sylvia Young Theatre School in London. He dedicated the show to his friend Rebekah Gibbs. This was a telephone interview. For the full interview visit the website.
Cinderella runs until 11 January.

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Horses, Dracula and children in hospital

Peaceful Lion’s Ollie Fielding spoke to Sharon Diamond about her production of Rosie’s Magic Horse at the New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich

Why did you choose Rosie’s Magic Horse?
I knew of Russell Hoban, as an author, from his fantastic and seminal work Riddley Walker. When I first picked up Rosie’s Magic Horse in addition to it being an incredibly charming book, the focus on a child worrying about how her parents could afford to pay the bills made it feel very timely. And, of course, who doesn’t love the ever brilliant work of Quentin Blake?! With a magic flying horse and such an epic adventure the story felt like quite a challenge to bring to the stage but I founded Peaceful Lion Productions to push the boundaries of what was possible with small scale children’s theatre, so I knew I had to run (or should that be gallop) with it.
Tell me about your work in hospitals
The link between arts and health is something I’m incredibly passionate about. Being in hospital can be a scary and lonely time for a child. Our hospital based performances aim to make that difficult time a little easier.
We aim to ensure that all hospitalised children, their families and the medical staff can engage in an uplifting and inclusive theatrical experience together. It can provide a sense of relief and a feeling of precious normality for children and their families who are often unable to access any stimulating or fun activities and for some it might even be their first experience of theatre. We’ve now done 10 hospital performances and they have all been incredibly rewarding experiences for the entire cast not just for the children, their families and the hospital staff.
How did you start the company?
I founded Peaceful Lion Productions in 2006 when I was still a student. I knew I wanted to create fantastic theatre for children and families. I had some crazy ideas for creating big stories on small budgets. Creating magical productions was a way to let my overactive imagination run riot.
Why entertain and inspire children via theatre – there’s lots of TV channels for them.
There’s no doubt that modern life has a lot of distractions for everyone and not just children. The question isn’t so much about why make theatre for children but why make theatre at all. I recently wrote an article where I said theatre is like a join-the-dots puzzle; there is an outline of an image but audience members have to be pro-active to make the picture complete. An audience must invest in a performance to get the most out of it, by using their imagination to join those dots they can bring the production to life. Theatre stretches our imagination and we’ve been doing it for a long time; performance is our oldest art form.
People have been communicating through performance long before anyone could write or even draw. Theatre should be as much a part of life for children as for any other age group.
Give a brief run down of the some of the shows you’ve done starting with Dracula.
It all started with Dracula, I wanted to set my production outside at night and take the story back to the roots of Bram Stoker’s Gothic novel. Things were still coming together back then, I suppose you could say Dracula founded Peaceful Lion Productions rather than Peaceful Lion Productions produced Dracula.
Following that came the Secret Garden my first foray into children’s theatre, then we produced a couple of shows based on books by E Nesbit, The Enchanted Castle in 2007 and The Magic City in 2008. They were some of her lesser known stories and because I love her work I wanted to bring her amazing imagination and capacity for writing wonderful children’s stories to life. Following that Peaceful Lion took a break as I focused on assistant directing and learning the craft.
We came back in 2012 with Bringing Down the Moon based on the book by Jonathan Emmett, it was of a different mould to our previous work, I knew more about creating theatre and it was our first touring show. Following on from Bringing Down the Moon we produced Hey, Presto! based on a book by Nadia Shireen, it was a great pleasure to keep the same creative team in place. We all work together so well it made the production a real hit and now we’re back with Rosie’s Magic Horse!
What’s next?
We’re working on developing a big new family musical. It’s a massive challenge though, I’m used to working with casts of three or four and this one would have a cast of 16. I mentioned I liked challenges though, right…

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I love Bradford and… unicorns

Louise Chantal has taken on the roll of chief executive at the Oxford Playhouse. Scary or what? Amanda Cornwallis asks the questions

AC: How important is it for the theatre to attract young people to see plays? I note you’ve got Theatre Alibi with I Believe in Unicorns in April and also The Woman in Black – two ends of the age range.
LC: I arrived here a couple of months ago with a certain expectation of what an ‘Oxford Playhouse show’ might look like, only to see Frantic Assembly’s rap-fuelled, shell-suited Othello sell as many tickets as Pat Barker’s Regeneration a couple of weeks later. First and foremost, the Playhouse is a ‘theatre for everyone’ – which doesn’t mean everyone will enjoy everything, but rather that we try to make sure we have enough variety to entice less regular attenders through the doors as well as those who know they like coming here already.
Of course we want more young people to see the work we do, which is one of the reasons we have a programme of work called ‘Playhouse Plays Out’ which literally takes shows to the people rather than them having to come to us. We also, like many other theatres, offer cheap or even free tickets to people who would otherwise not be able to come along. I don’t think it’s especially helpful to say a show is for one age-range and not another – the most important thing to ensure is the quality of the work and the range of the programme. Trust your audience, but encourage them to be bold occasionally!
AC: At around £20 a ticket for the panto – isn’t it just too expensive to take a whole family compared to the cinema?
LC: We worry about this a lot – we’re publicly-funded and passionate about theatre, and we want everyone to be able to come along. We have 5 differently-priced performance groups, so you can go for the ‘premium’ shows in Christmas week or pick a preview or later show in early January at a bargain price. Next year we’re going to add a couple of ‘super-saver’ shows, at an even lower price. We offer a range of discounts, and give away over 1,000 tickets every year to local family and children’s charities. Of course it’s an expense, but the panto is a totally different experience to seeing a film – it’s not about distracting the kids for a couple of hours, but about creating memories.
AC: What was the first play you saw that inspired a passion for the theatre and why?
LC: It was the Bradford Alhambra panto of course! My family didn’t go to theatre very often, but my Mum always found a way to take us to the panto, which we loved. Later I went on a free ticket from my primary school to see Joseph and his Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, and I remember that I was so transfixed I nearly got run-over afterwards. I was addicted to Saturday afternoon musicals on BBC2 too. Then I went to secondary school and they had a drama club …
AC: Do you have plans to expand the amount of theatre for children and young people so it’s not just concentrated in the school holidays?
LC: We already programme work for all ages throughout the year, alongside a packed Learning and Participation programme for all ages from 7-22. The Playhouse has 3 companies for young people (age ranges 7-10, 11-15 and 15-22) who meet in termtime, and a really popular programme of holiday workshops. I’m keen to expand our education in terms of the people we reach as much as the quantity of work we offer.
AC: Can you give an over view of the theatre’s plans for children’s theatre this spring – and the thinking behind it?
LC: Off-stage, I’m super-excited about starting a new programme for young writers alongside our workshops and young companies. Onstage, Oxford Playhouse is producing no less than three shows for little ones (Bathtime, The Boy Who Bit Picasso and Ready Steady Colour) which are also touring nationally, and then Shared Experience’s mesmerising Mermaid will include a community choir of girls aged 14-20. The thinking behind it is we want everyone to find something which is just right for them!
AC: Favourite ever children’s show?
LC: I’ve seen a lot more as an adult than I did as a child, but you can’t beat Peter Pan.
AC: A little about yourself – family, fancies, fads and favourite foods.
LC: My Mum always encouraged us to think we could do anything we wanted to – and now I try to inspire the same aspiration and confidence in my youngest nieces (aged 11 and 13). They’ll be coming to the Oxford panto for the first time, after which I will take them for pizza. They can pay me back the next day with gardening duty – might as well put all that young energy to good use, eh?!?
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Scott Ritchie

Scott Ritchie

Just where do you start when directing a pantomime?

The director of Cinderella at the Theatre Royal in Bath opens up about choreography, music and working with Jon Monie. Scott Ritchie was the first director to follow panto legend Chris Harris who died in 2014 at the theatre. He talks to Harry Mottram by telephone for Children’s Theatre Magazine. www.childrenstheatremagazine.co.uk

Full interview on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aq041u4qMoc

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Reading the riot act: Stephen Leask as The Miller and Iris Roberts as Emily. Pic: Nick Spratling

Reading the riot act: Stephen Leask as The Miller and Iris Roberts as Emily. Pic: Nick Spratling

Who the hell does Emily think she is? Lotte Wakeham on her female hero

Female characters who wait around for princes to marry are boring says Lotte Wakeham, the director of the egg Theatre’s Christmas show in Bath. Amanda Cornwallis asks the questions. Feature at www.childrenstheatremagazine.co.uk

Lotte Wakeham - the director of Rumplestiltskin

Lotte Wakeham – the director of Rumplestiltskin

AC: Cinders, the Sleeping Beauty and Jill (as in Jack and Jill) are well known characters – so why er… the weirdly named Rumplestiltskin?
LW: One of the reasons I was drawn to Rumplestiltskin is because it isn’t very well known. It’s a fantastic story and has several unexpected twists and turns. I think audiences may be familiar with the shape of the story, but there’ll be plenty of surprises as well.
AC: Tell me about your approach to the play – I take it isn’t going to be panto in style.
LW: The writers, Matt Harvey and Thomas Hewitt Jones, have written a brand new family musical. One of the other shows that I worked on is the West End production of Roald Dahl’s MATILDA, so I’m quite familiar with that sort of theatre style, which is engaging for a wide age range, including adults and children.

Wedding day: Richard Lowe (The King), Stephen Leask (The Miller), Iris Roberts (Emily). Pic: Nick Spratling

Wedding day: Richard Lowe (The King), Stephen Leask (The Miller), Iris Roberts (Emily). Pic: Nick Spratling

AC: Some children’s theatre seems more directed at parents – how will this engage children?
LW: I think it will be totally engaging for children – it’s been written specifically for them. There will be lots of exciting visual moments and jokes as well as wordplay and an exciting story. I think children will really like the different characters in the show as well. We’ve got a brilliant cast of actors.
AC: The egg is a very intimate space – will the play reach out and involve the audience and be interactive?
LW: Absolutely. Unlike most theatres, the egg has been designed specifically for young audiences, so the space is very child friendly. The tagline for the show is “Guess My Name” and there are a few moments where we might ask for the audience’s help with this…
AC: I’m interested in the Miller’s daughter – she sounds quite feisty and a match for the villain – how have you shaped her persona?
LW: Our Miller’s daughter is called Emily and she is very feisty. I think female characters who just sit around, waiting for princes to rescue them, are a bit boring! I also think that audiences enjoy seeing powerful female characters, such as the girls in FROZEN. We’ve thought a lot about how to make Emily brave and strong, even when she finds herself in a sticky situation.

Feisty femme: Iris Roberts as Emily in Rumplestiltskin at the egg theatre

Feisty femme: Iris Roberts as Emily in Rumplestiltskin at the egg theatre

Rumplestiltskin runs from Thursday 27th November to Sunday 4th January at the egg Theatre in Bath.
For details visit www.theatreroyal.org.uk.
The production is a musical based on the fairy story revived by the Brother’s Grimm in 1812 and tells the dark and juicy tale of Rumplestiltskin, a strange, scheming creature who saves the life of the Miller’s daughter but demands a terrible price in return. The publicity says it is a tale of loose tongues, desperate deals and the power of names – all told through witty lyrics and swinging tunes, accompanied by a multi-tasking three-piece band.Read our review at http://www.childrenstheatremagazine.co.uk/?page_id=39

Spinning baddie: the eponymous Rumplestiltskin. Pic: Nick Spratling

Spinning baddie: the eponymous Rumplestiltskin. Pic: Nick Spratling