Fireworks expected as puppet opera breaks age barrier

The Firework-Maker's Daughter
The Firework-Maker's Daughter
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It’s an obvious reference point that those who create work for young people reach for, but it is because it is such a perfect example of the genre that Shrek gets so often quoted.

The story of a big green ogre who falls in love with a princess can only be aimed at an audience of young people, yet somehow the movie transcended any of those barriers to become universally loved by audience members regardless of age.

John Fulljames is an enormously accomplished opera director, having worked all over the world on productions. His latest work, for Opera North – the company where he recently directed La Clemenza Di Tito – has its world premiere in Hull this weekend.

When The Firework-Maker’s Daughter opens at Hull Truck on Saturday, Fulljames hopes to see not just young people enjoying the work, but adults of all ages too.

“I can see absolutely no reason why this can’t work as a piece for all ages, or as a piece of opera on stage,” says Fulljames, unequivocally.

“There is a great tradition in films and literature of work that is created for a younger audience that appeals to people of all ages. Opera doesn’t necessarily have the same tradition but that is not to say that the artform can’t appeal to young people.”

Fulljames is at the helm of Opera North’s adaptation of the Philip Pullman story. Recommended for audiences who are aged eight and over, the story is a fairytale adventure recounting the tale of Lila, a young girl who wants to be a firework maker like her father, Lalchand.

But when he refuses to teach her, Lila runs away from home to discover the three gifts of firework making for herself.

“Philip’s piece is a fantastic, classic quest story with the girl who is the hero of the story overcoming obstacles to achieve her quest.

“It’s a great journey that she goes on, with some really wonderful, epic scenes.”

There is, clearly, an inherent problem in telling the story. If the quest is for the heroine of the story to become a firework maker, then the denouement needs to be suitably explosive, surely?

“We use a lot of puppetry, which allows you to change the scenes very quickly and makes it almost filmic in style,” says Fulljames. Using a cast of five singers, the opera also features two puppeteers, bringing the story to life.

While he has worked on some grand stages, creating impressive and large scale operas, Fulljames insists that creating an opera for young people requires the same skills as though it were a piece created for an adult audience.

“The process is exactly the same,” he says.

“My work is about the narrative, and finding the emotional truth of the story and that doesn’t change no matter what the age of the audience.

“I suppose when you’re making work for a very young audience, as in this case, there’s a little more trying to put yourself in the shoes of the audience, but the process at its heart remains the same as it ever is.”

If anything, says Fulljames, the work that goes into the piece needs to be even more rigorous.

“We did some workshops and the thing that struck me was that the young audiences immediately could tell when they thought something wasn’t the truth. So you have to be very rigorous about finding the truth of the story.”

Hull Truck Theatre, March 23 to 26, then touring, including LBT, Huddersfield.