Brief Encounter With…Wendy Harris
When We Lived in Uncle’s Hat is the latest co-production from theatre company Tutti Frutti and the York Theatre Royal, adapted for the stage by playwright Finnegan Kruckemeyer.
Director Wendy Harris is making a homecoming of sorts having previously worked as a freelance director at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool and was artistic director at Merseyside Young People’s Theatre Company.
Harris was in receipt of an Arts Council directors bursary in 1989 which took her to the Sheffield Crucible Theatre and then to Oxford Stage Company where she stayed as assistant director until 1991.
She is currently artistic director of Tutti Frutti productions.
What is When We Lived in Uncle’s Hat about?
Really it is a story about; how you find your place in the world and the discovery that the important things in life are the people you spend your life with, not where you live.
What is the story behind the production?
I wanted to create a play with more actors than we normally employ and to have the chance to present work with live music. Having met Finnegan Kruckemeyer in Australia at the Assitej World Congress, in 2008, we were delighted with the play he wrote for us in 2009 - If Only The Lonely Were Home. He was the obvious choice for this book adaptation, as it was quirky, surreal and very imaginative. All of the Tutti Frutti productions are currently produced in a partnership with York Theatre Royal and we are delighted they have remained a partner for this production. Winged Chariot, the publisher of the book, and the writer, Peter Stamm, have been very supportive of us adapting the book. We applied to Arts Council England and were delighted to be awarded funds to produce the show. We now have a two week run at York Theatre Royal and a national tour running up to December 2010. We have expanded our age group to children over 5 for this particular production as we feel the story is more suitable for that age group, so this too is a new venture for us. Dominic Sales returns to Tutti Frutti productions as a composer – he worked with the company on a number of productions over four years ago. We are also delighted to work with, experienced designer, Alison Heffernan and movement director Ruth Tyson-Jones.
How did you find the story?
I was researching new books for potential adaptation. I didn’t want an overly ‘commercial’ book and so came across Winged Chariot an independent publisher who publish fantastic books from Europe and translate them into English. I fell in love with the book as soon as I saw it. Its’ fantastic illustrations and quirky text are just wonderful and very Tutti Frutti.
What do you hope young children will learn from the play?
In the first instance I want them to enjoy the imaginative story, the live music, and the range of brilliant characters. If they learn something too that would be a bonus. I just want them to engage fully in the theatricality of the piece. If this works they will be moved by the dilemmas the central protagonist finds himself in and will identify with this. He deals with the difficult nature of his family, the loss of his granddad, the constant uprooting and moving house, until finally the family find a house they can settle in. He learns about the importance of family. I also think the audience will gain enormously from the design element of the show and will see lots of things we have not thought about yet. The nature of this piece allows lots of space for the children’s imaginations to work - they will work it out better than I can.
How important is theatre for young children?
Vital. It should be offered as a matter of course to all children across the UK so they grow up with it as something that is normal and part of their overall cultural experience. As for all ages, theatre enriches lives, and helps us to see the world with fresh eyes. It helps us make sense of the world we live in and to engage imaginatively. The ‘live experience’ for children is even more vital today as it’s ever been as we journey through a world full of screens and digital media.
What does Tutti Frutti hope to achieve over the next few years?
We are working up to the celebration of our 21st birthday in 2012 and have lots of ideas as to how we can celebrate that! We hope to repeat our Little Feet Festival for children, create a new dance-theatre piece for young children, work with leading theatre buildings on a new writing- nurturing project across the North to engage playwrights in writing for the young, we aim to produce some fantastic new pieces of work to tour nationally and are looking to produce some smaller bespoke story-based participative projects for schools and libraries.
Two performances of When We Lived in Uncle’s Hat will take place at 12pm and 2.30pm at the Lowry in Salford Quays on Sunday 7 November, before it appears at the Unity Theatre in Liverpool on Saturday 13 November at 4.30pm.