Tuesday, 7 July 2015

PREVIEW - The King Of Tiny Things

IT was reading a bedtime story to her young son that provided Poppy Burton Morgan with the inspiration for her latest show.
The King Of Tiny Things is based on the children’s book of the same name by Jeanne Willis and Gwen Millward.
It is being staged by Poppy’s theatre company, Metta Theatre, at the Udderbelly Festival from Saturday ahead of a five month nationwide tour which includes a date at Greenwich Theatre in October.
It is also the third production as part of the company’s Metta10 – the staging of 10 shows in one year to celebrate the 10 year anniversary of the company which Poppy set up with her husband William Reynolds in 2005.
The King Of Tiny Things combines music, circus and puppetry to tell the story which is that of two young sisters who huddle together one magical midsummer’s night as they camp in the garden.
To begin with they are frightened about what the darkness holds but then suddenly a mysterious winged creature appears and leads them on a moonlit adventure.
Together they rescue juggling slugs, contortionist worms and caterpillars, a collection of daddy long legs and a trio of acrobatic baby bats. But while they are busy doing all this, they overlook their new friend, the fairy King who really needs their help.
For Poppy, this enchanting story was a chance for her to showcase Metta’s skills in combining a host of ways to tell the story.
“I was given the book by a friend for my three-year-old and every night I read it to him,” she says.
“It is a beautiful and emotionally rich story which completely engaged my son night after night.
“It has so many layers to it and the more we read it, the more I began to wonder if I could turn it into a family show and I started to think of all the different circus disciplines I could incorporate into it to bring it to life.
“I got in touch with Jeanne Willis and she seemed really keen on the idea so we started to create it.”
The piece now includes eight original songs which have been composed by Jon Nicholls and features four circus artists who not only do acrobatics and show off other circus skills but they also sing songs and operate the puppets at the same time.
Each creature is represented by a different circus discipline, for example the daddy long legs is a stilt walker and the bats do acrobatic tricks.
“Music and singing is a big part of the show but so is the circus and puppetry so it was a challenge to find artists who could sing and hang upside down at the same time,” says Poppy cheerfully.
“However, Metta is known for its cross-art form productions so we are used to these challenges and we have some amazing artists in this show.”
What was more of a challenge was adapting the story for a younger audience but that would appeal to adults as well.
“There is some great theatre out there for young audiences but we wanted to create something that would be enjoyed by everyone no matter how old,” says Poppy.
“This is a story with such great themes and it’s a question of teasing them out so that all age groups can relate to them.”
These include on a very basic level that of someone being afraid of the dark and exploring and overcoming those fears.
However, Poppy is keen to point out that there are also wider issues about gender, disability and equality which she also wanted to be represented on stage.
“In many ways it’s quite a dark story,” she says. “It’s about children being afraid of the dark – something that most children can identify with – but it also looks at how they overcome that fear and begin to help other creatures who they encounter in that darkness.
“There are many layers to the story and a lot of symbolism. It explores growing up and the fears associated with that, as well as what it means to be kind and respectful and to be inclusive and considerate to other people and their feelings.
“One of the other reasons I wanted to do the show was because my three year old had a nervous relationship with insects and mini beasts.
“He was really freaked out by them at one stage so I wanted to create something that would help him overcome that. By turning them into a big circus event I hope we can encourage a whole new generation of insect lovers!
“I hope everyone who comes to see it will go away thinking insects are actually really cool and interesting and realise how important they are for the environment and the world. That’s a really important message.
“It has been such a joy to put the show together - I’ve tried to make it as engaging, visually stimulating and beautiful to watch as possible. It’s a very physical piece with a lot of humour, though of course there are a few moments of drama and I hope we’ve created an atmosphere where children aren’t afraid to interact with what’s going on.”
And she says she’s delighted that the show will get its world premiere at Udderbelly.
“I think it’s a great festival and so supportive of circus acts which audiences are embracing more and more,” she says.
“British circus is having a bit of a moment and companies in this country are making more and more circus-based shows which is great.
“I get really excited about the storytelling possibilities within circus so it’s great to be here doing this show.”

The King Of Tiny Things is on at Udderbelly, South Bank between July 11 and 13. Visit www.udderbelly.co.uk for listings and tickets.

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