As New Perspective’s latest adaptation of a Children’s classic The Giant Jam Sandwich plays to children and their families on tour the company’s Artistic Director, Jack McNamara, says that the key to successful children’s theatre is making the content as rich as that for adult audiences.
The world of children’s picture books can be a place where imaginations go into overdrive, not only for readers but also for theatre programmers.
At their best, children’s books tell brilliantly concise stories in original and often provocative ways. Whatever your age, it’s hard to resist being inspired by the tongue-twisting brilliance of Dr Seuss, the dry minimalism of Jon Klassen, or the outlandish humour of Babette Cole. These artists, among many others in this area, push their form as far as they can and bring readers, old and young, with them.
But work for children has often been connected to an avant-garde sensibility. The composer Carl Stalling’s music for the early Warner Brothers cartoons is considered some of the most progressive modern composition of its time; full of stop-start rhythms and bouncing between genres.
Inspired by all these great innovators, when New Perspectives produce work for children we make it as a rich an offer as anything we would make for adults. That means investing as much into our design, casting and dramaturgy as we would for our ‘grown-up’ productions.
Like the best of children’s writing, we also make sure our work doesn’t shy away from potentially tricky themes. A recent production of ours made for audiences aged seven plus – a collection of rare Ted Hughes plays titled The Tiger’s Bones and Other Stories – comprised of three short works that explored subjects such as religion, worker’s rights, colonialism and the death-wish of technology. And kids loved it!
The Giant Jam Sandwich is our latest children’s show, an adaptation of John Vernon Lord and Janet Burroway’s outrageously good 1972 picture book.
The story presents a conflict between a community of villagers and a swarm of wasps and, as the title suggests, a solution for trapping them. Yet even in such a joyous and exuberant book, there are complex themes worth mining.
There is the latent theme of foreign invasion in the original story that, without turning it into a political allegory, we choose to explore in our production. Our main way of doing so is by giving the wasps in our version a voice, so that audiences hear their side of events too.
After all, conflict is rarely a straightforward subject and perhaps the less we are taught to see the world in black and white terms the better. This is why, at New Perspectives, the focus of our creative energy is on the constant search for something unexpected that triggers the imagination to offer a glimpse of a show waiting to happen.
The Giant Jam Sandwich is currently touring – please see tour dates here
photo: L-R Jack McNamara (Artistic Director, New Perspectives), John Vernon Lord (illustrator and author)