How can theatre keep kids attention… in the garden?

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Over the last few years my work has been pretty evenly divided between making work for children and young people (The Scarecrows’ Wedding, Raymond Briggs’ Father Christmas) as well as site-specific, interactive experiences (Hotel Plays, Really Emergency Theatre). So this summer, I hope to put those experiences to good use with the outdoor stage adaptation of The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes.

The Little Gardener tells the story of a little gardener and the garden that meant everything to him. He worked very hard but he was just too little to make a difference. There was just too much ground for him to cover, too much work for one little person. However, one beautiful flower appeared in his garden, which gave him the hope to carry on. One night before bed, the little gardener makes a wish “for a little bit of help” and as he sleeps the local children, inspired by his beautiful flower, help to bring his garden to life. The gardener wakes to find his garden alive and wonderful.

I love Emily’s work. Her illustrations are so beautiful. Her work is so layered and poignant but there’s also darkness in there, a roughness around the edges. There’s an appeal in Emily’s books to adults as well as children simply because of the quality of her stories. For me, The Little Gardener is about persistence, community and the impact the good will of others can have on our lives.

“When it comes to outdoor theatre, you really can, quite literally, lose your audience. If they are not engaged, they will simply walk away. Add that to the fact that it’s a show aimed at 3-6 year olds … ruthless.”

The Little Gardener felt like the perfect fit for an outdoor theatre adaption. It seemed only right for the play to be set inside a large greenhouse. An interactive greenhouse, that invites children from the audience inside to tend to the garden whilst the little gardener is sleeping.

The idea for this came very quickly once the decision had been made to adapt the book – it was my instinctual response. I must say James Lewis (our designer on the project) is truly a genius. From day one, he’s embraced the challenges of this production. It’s essential that the production is as visually stunning as possible – especially as there’s such a brutal honesty when it comes to outdoor theatre.

You really can, quite literally, lose your audience. If they are not engaged, they will simply walk away. Add that to the fact that it’s a show aimed at 3-6 year olds and you have yourself a pretty ruthless audience. But I must say I do love the honesty of children, if they don’t like something they’ll let you know!

The piece will also feature puppetry – in the form of the little gardener himself and his pet worm (‘Wormy’) and an original soundtrack by our composer Darren Clark. Music is so important to me and vital to my process in the rehearsal room. I’ve worked with Darren several times before and I really cherish what he brings to the rehearsal process. He has the power to change the temperature of the room with a pluck of a string and I love that.

I’m very excited about this production. I hope that the story inspires people, just as it has inspired me, and if we can get some kids into gardening along the way that would be a beautiful thing too.

The Little Gardener in on an outdoors tour in June and July, visiting Lyric Hammersmith, Watford Palace Theatre, Stockwood Discovery Centre and two festival, Greenwich and Docklands International Festival and Latitude. All performances are free and non-ticketed.

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Guest Bloggers on Twitter
Guest Bloggers
MyTheatreMates welcomes submissions from guest bloggers and other occasional contributors, including theatremakers commenting on aspects of their shows. Please email your suggestions to Mates co-founder Terri Paddock or submit them via our Contact Us page.