The Little Gardener is set to bring an innovative take on theatre for children, an adaptation of Emily Hughes’ popular book. It embarks 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.
I chatted to Eva Sampson who directs the piece…
Performed inside a large glass box, containing a real-life garden, How It Ended, a visually inventive theatre company, tell the story of a little gardener and the garden that meant everything to him. The audience will be invited to tend to the garden while the little gardener is sleeping and, through their work (basic tasks such as planting and watering), the garden will come alive. The performance is as playful as it is inventive, featuring puppetry (in the form of the little gardener and his pet worm), and an original soundtrack composed by Darren Clark.
Hi Eva, thank you for talking to Break A Leg Review. Where did the inspiration come from to transform Emily Hughes’ book The Little Gardner into an interactive piece of theatre?
We’re big fans of Emily’s books – she’s such a wonderful artist and a real joy to collaborate with. We’ve worked with Emily before on an adaptation of her debut book Wild which we workshopped last year.
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 (or at least he felt he was). One night, the Little Gardener makes a wish “for a little bit of help” and as he sleeps the local children – inspired by his garden, help bring it to life. The gardener wakes to find his garden in full glorious bloom. It’s a beautiful story and with such a poignant metaphor – you can’t help but feel inspired by it.
The Little Gardener to me, felt like perfect subject material for adaptation, particularly outdoor theatre – not only because of it’s outdoor / garden setting but because of it’s message; community and the active goodwill of others, has the power to give us hope. It seemed only right for the play to be set inside a large greenhouse! The majority of the piece will be viewed from outside the box, with audience members peering in. However when the little gardener falls asleep, the doors of the greenhouse will open allowing children from the audience inside to tend to the garden whilst he is sleeping.
I think it’s so important that your theatrical concept comes from a place of truth within your story – and this feels really truthful, as though it shouldn’t be done any other way.
How did you go about making the transition from book to your piece?
Well, the transition is still ongoing as we open the show on the 7th June, so we’re all very much in the thick of it! Before entering into rehearsals we spent a lot of time working on the design concept and the dramaturgy for the production. I believe that if I have done the ‘homework’ beforehand, then I can enter the rehearsal room with the freedom to play and be as open as possible to discover new ideas/throw old ones out the window. It’s really important to us that the book’s images are re-imagined so that our audiences do not see a literal representation of the book played out in front of them. We believe in creating non-patronising, playfully inventive pieces which encourage children to use their imaginations.
Emily’s work is so richly layered that there’s always plenty to explore. Reading a book is obviously a very different experience to watching a stage show. The reader can sit and gaze at a page – awash with colour and imagery for as long as they want, in the theatre we have steer that gaze and invite audiences into this ‘new world’ on stage, where these much-loved characters come to life.
Did you have certain spaces in mind to perform the productions, in? Were you looking for anywhere in particular to fit your own idea?
The great thing about setting the show in a large greenhouse is that it is a self-contained performance space, so we can essentially take the show anywhere, whether it be on Watford High Street or leafy Latitude!
Is this a new way of directing for you? Or have you done something similar in the past?
Over recent years, most my work has been aimed a children and young people. I’ve also directed several interactive pieces, now, working with great companies such as Look Left Look Right and Defibrillator. Making this kind of work presents some logistical challenges but essentially my approach is the same, it’s about telling a story and doing that as playfully and inventively as possible.
What led you towards a career as a Director?
I originally trained as an actor at East 15 but it wasn’t long before I took up directing. As an actor I was always more pre-occupied with the kind of ‘pictures’ we were making and the overall vision of the piece. I then began Assistant and Associate Directing as much as I could – I wanted to learn from directors I admired and respected. During the first couple of years I learnt that half of the job is about managing the ’temperature’ of the room and making sure that a company feels as comfortable as possible, so that they can be more open and playful.
Thanks to Eva for an insightful discussion, we wish every success to the production.
Featured Image Credit: Eva Sampson