Traditional stories for children – with a modern twist

Rapunzel
Rapunzel
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IT’S panto time again (oh yes it is!) but for those families who might like to try a different form of theatrical entertainment over the festive period, there are some interesting alternatives on offer in the region including two productions – Rapunzel and The Boy Who Cried Wolf – from renowned Yorkshire children’s theatre company tutti frutti.

Both are based on well-known stories and both are written by leading playwright Mike Kenny who specialises in pieces for young people and whose work includes the Olivier award-winning The Railway Children and most recently the critically acclaimed Blood + Chocolate.

“I love working with Mike and his writing,” says Wendy Harris, who has been tutti frutti’s artistic director since 2005 and has directed both shows. “He is a brilliant storyteller and he always manages to create such interesting characters. He also finds really relevant themes and includes repetition in the script – without it seeming like repetition – which is great for young audiences.”

Rapunzel originally toured in autumn 2012 and is being revived – with four extra songs – for a three-week run, just started, at the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield. “It tells the story of a girl who lives in a tower for the first 12 years of her life,” says Harris. “I believe that all good fairytales are really about growing up.” Faced with the challenges of growing up Rapunzel, high up in her tower, one day meets a boy called Rafi and begins to wonder about the world outside. The Boy Who Cried Wolf, based on the famous Aesop fable, opened earlier this week at the Crucible Studio in Sheffield where it will run until January 4.

“I just thought it would be interesting to do a story with a boy at the heart of it,” says Harris. “He is not satisfied with what’s around him. He lies and lies again and then he gets caught out. Eventually he has to learn to take responsibility and do what is needed in his community.”

The company presents over 200 performances a year, reaching around 20,000 children and its stated aim is to ‘delight children with imaginative, visual and meaningful story-based theatre’.

“When you are doing something for children it has to be something that they love but we need to find a modern resonance that they can relate to in some way,” says Harris. “We try and reflect the diversity of our modern world but our work is not issue-based it’s very stylised. We must entertain and delight the children – and draw them into the story.” Their pieces combine physical theatre, music and plenty of humour.

“Children are the best audience ever to work for,” says Harris. “You can try anything and do anything because they are not coming with any preconceptions.”

She stresses the value of introducing children to theatre, not just in the hope that they will become adult audience members but because giving children the opportunity to enjoy theatre is “important in its own right.”

She is concerned that children’s theatre is not as valued in this country as it is in other parts of the world. “Children having creative and cultural experiences gives them a new way of thinking about the world – it is really important that we expose them to that.”

Rapunzel, Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield Dec 9-29, The Boy Who Cried Wolf, Crucible Studio, Sheffield, Dec11-Jan 4.