This Christmas at Chelsea Theatre, Tall Stories Theatre Company is reviving Something Else, a show for the 3+ age group that it originally produced in 2002. The production, based on the award-winning book by Kathryn Cave and Chris Riddell about a small blue creature with no friends, was last performed in 2003. So what has happened to Tall Stories since then? Ben Brailsford investigates.

Tall Stories’ first two shows performed at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 1997, directed by joint artistic directors Olivia Jacobs and Toby Mitchell. Not aimed specifically at children, one show was based on the fairy tales of Oscar Wilde and the other on Alice in Wonderland. Both productions were well-received and the company was surprised to receive many comments from grateful parents – showing a demand for high-quality work for a family audience.

Twelve years later, Jacobs and Mitchell are still running the company, now alongside administrator Siobhan Higgins and admin assistant Lisa McLean. The company has produced 20 shows and has toured extensively in the UK, Ireland, Poland, America, Canada, China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand, and were described recently by the Sunday Times as having set a "benchmark for children’s theatre".

It was in 1999 that things really took off for Tall Stories, when they produced a dark version of Snow White for everyone aged 5-105. After initial performances at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Snow White went on to perform at the Scottish International Children’s Festival, and then toured North America, including a run at the New Victory Theatre on Broadway.

After Snow White, Tall Stories decided to see whether they could produce a show for the younger 3+ age group – and their adults. They decided to adapt the recently published picture book The Gruffalo. The show went to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2001 and hasn’t stopped touring since – round the UK and the world. It’s also been made into a DVD by the Really Useful Group, and it’s back in the West End this Christmas.

In 2002 the company finally moved from its directors’ spare rooms into a small office, employed an administrator and started working full time. Hot on the heels of The Gruffalo came the aforementioned Something Else, which performed at the 2002 and 2003 Edinburgh Fringes, and toured widely in the UK, Poland and Singapore.

Over the next few years, the company continued producing well-received shows for the 3+ and 6+ age groups, including Room on the Broom, The Snow Dragon and Them with Tails, which are all being revived this Christmas in London, Warwick and Brighton/London respectively.

In 2009, Tall Stories produced its first ever fact-inspired show, How the Giraffe got its Neck, which celebrated the Darwin bicentenary and aimed to explain the basics of evolution to the very young, using the company’s signature humorous physical storytelling style. The company is now planning a follow-up, Twinkle Twonkle, which aims to explain the Big Bang and the history of the universe, and opens in spring 2010.

Tall Stories recently became a registered charity (now based in the Institute Arts Centre in East Finchley, London) and, having produced seven productions of five different shows across nine venues for Christmas 2009, is looking forward to a slightly less hectic New Year!

For more info on Tall Stories visit www.tallstories.org.uk


Tall Stories Christmas Shows 2009:

SOMETHING ELSE: Chelsea Theatre (1-23 December) and Norden Farm in Maidenhead (2-27 December).
ROOM ON THE BROOM: Pleasance Islington, London (1 December to 3 January).
THE GRUFFALO: Apollo Theatre in London’s West End (25 November to 10 January), Stockton Arts Centre (12-21 December) and Birmingham Town Hall (23 December to 3 January).
THE SNOW DRAGON: Warwick Arts Centre (5 December to 3 January).
THEM WITH FROZEN TAILS: Brighton Dome (8-13 December) and London’s Roundhouse (15 December to 3 January).