Fable for an uncertain world leaves Aesop’s ending behind

Luisa Guerreiro as Tortoise and Barnaby Southgate as Hare.  Photo: Peter Byrne
Luisa Guerreiro as Tortoise and Barnaby Southgate as Hare. Photo: Peter Byrne
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The theatre company behind Hare and Tortoise tells Sarah Freeman why slow and steady doesn’t always win the race.

In some circles taking the moral out of an Aesop’s Fable, would be like stripping the iambic pentameter out of Shakespeare or omitting the pregnant pauses from Pinter. It would, in short, be sacrilege.

However, when it came to adapting The Tortoise and the Hare for the stage, playwright Brendan Murray had no such reservations.

“For me the moral at the end was a real stumbling block,” he says. “Not only because it didn’t ring true – I’m not sure slow and steady does always win the race – but because morals of any kind don’t sit easily with me. Morals imply certainty and what drives me as an artist is a need to explore uncertainty.”

So instead, Brendan ignored Aesop’s wise words, gave the story a brand new ending and Hare and Tortoise, the latest production to come out of the Leeds-based Tutti Frutti company, was born.

The show, which is about to open at Sheffield’s Studio Theatre, will be on tour throughout next year and hopes to capitalise on the run up to London 2012.

“The fact we are about to enter an Olympic year gave us a great chance to bring a story about a show which explores the idea of competition and being the best to a wider audience,” says director Wendy Harris. “Children have to cope in a world of contradictions, one day being congratulated if they do well in a spelling test and the next finding out there won’t be any prizes for coming first in a sports day race and in many ways this story will allow them to work through those ideas.

“Also it’s good to see that you don’t always have to be the fastest, the brightest and perceived as the best to do well in the world.”

For the last five years, Tutti Frutti has been working with York Theatre Royal to develop productions which appeal to a younger audience and which aren’t just part of the programme because they help put bums on seats.

“There are some theatres that see children as important but only because they are the adult audiences of the future,” adds Wendy. “They don’t see them as theatregoers in their own right.

“However, we have been really lucky to have found York and its artistic director Damien Cruden, who shares our belief that theatre enriches the lives of everyone. Of course the idea with any theatrical performance is that the audience enjoy it, but with something like Hare and Tortoise, I also hope it helps them make sense of the world we live in.

“The live experience for children is even more vital today than it’s ever been as we journey through a world full of screens and digital media.”

Hare and Tortoise, Studio Theatre Sheffield, from December 14 to January 7. 0114 249 6000, www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk

Many takes on the tale

Tutti Frutti is not the first to take inspiration from Aesop’s fable of the Tortoise and the Hare.

The Moody Blues used it as a title for one of their tracks on their 1970 album A Question of Balance and a film version began by model animator Ray Harryhausen in 1952 was finally completed 50 years later.