THE old theatre adage of never working with children or animals is nonsense according to Richard Lewis – and he should know.
He’s the adaptor and director of a host of children’s shows from Peppa Pig and Ben & Holly to the current tour of The Octonauts and the Deep Sea Volcano Adventure.
Richard says: “The exciting thing I find about children’s shows is that there is always a level of interactivity with the audience that you don’t have with the ‘grown up’ shows. By having this connection with the audience you are able to offer a type of involvement that sometimes doesn’t happen with the ‘grown up’ productions. Also, as everyone tells you, children can be your harshest critics.
“If they are bored or unhappy they will stand up and run around or just make a noise so one of the greatest challenges is often to find the focus for their concentration levels and ensure that they are continually engaged by the show. This is a real challenge.”
He says it helps to use your own inner child when working on the transfer of the production from screen to theatre. “Every adult still retains an inner child,” he says. “It just depends on what access that adult has been able to retain to that child over the years.
“Sometimes they’ve been worn down by responsibility, by work, by events that happen in their life and have lost the capacity for that innocence which so reflects young children.
“When I was young I’m sure I was always an inquisitive child and always wanted to know why things happened, what made things worked, why was the sea blue and how do the stars sparkle,
and although in my adult life those questions have changed I still retain an enquiring mind about everything around me.
“Hopefully, also I’ve retained a sense of humour and imagination. These things together have allowed me to look at the adaptations, the script and stage work through the eyes of a child.
“One of the things I find most fascinating is watching the first audiences that we have for a show because they will tell you instantly when things are not working or when things are going wrong.
“At those moments it’s quite possible for me to instantly understand what is wrong because they have shown me how to see the project again through their eyes.”
The Deep Sea Volcano is a new full-length stage adventure based on the CBeebies’ TV show, Octonauts, and features the entire crew of the Octonauts. Led by intrepid explorer Captain Barnacles, Lieutenant Kwazii and Medic Peso, they embark on an underwater quest and visit amazing underwater worlds full of adventure.
Richard says that anyone who has seen the TV series will instantly recognise what’s going on in the stage show. “When turning TV animations into stage shows you have to be true to the core material, and with Octonauts the fast-moving adventure is a critical part of that,” he explains.
“It’s important to ensure these elements are an integral part of the stage show. To do this we use a mixture of formats that include large-scale projections to represent the sea and show the scale of adventure the Octonauts are undertaking.
“For action in the sea we also use a mixture of black light and UV puppetry. We have costume characters which accurately reflect the shape and size of the screen characters.
“But crucially, we make sure the costume characters have mouths that can speak directly to the audience so that we can include natural interactivity with the families watching.”