Farm Retreat Blog – Week One

Day One

I arrived nice and early deep into the South Suffolk countryside. A few wrong turns and a tractor or two and I finally found it. A peaceful setting which will form my home for most of the next two weeks. I then made my ‘work home’ by setting up camp in a secluded studio space in the corner of a barn. Underscored by doves and ambient lighting from the fairy lights – echoes of our Rooted Moon experience there – I sat down to write.

But what? What do I write? Helen and I had narrowed down two stories from Hans Christian Anderson’s collection of Fairy tales to form the basis of our new show ‘Shadow Stories.’ The main feature will be The Ugly Duckling with a short visit to The Emperor’s New Clothes. So first I needed to extract the main plot points of both stories and find creative ways to bring Anderson’s text to life. I felt that the naturally shadow-cast space would prove a useful inspiration too.

I started by working on the ugly duckling. Finding the key points and particular quotes from the text, and also ensuring that the story was clear and appropriate for a contemporary young audience.

Day Two

After a decent night’s sleep I woke to see that the rain had stopped. Glorious sunshine greeted me as I made my way back into the studio. I continued working on the script for the Ugly Duckling, trying find the balance between rhyme and prose, and between narration and dialogue. Then in the afternoon I started to experiment with the shadow puppets, trying out different design ideas and playing with the expressivity of the shadows. The rain returned after lunch so I nestled down in the studio to begin working on the Emperor’s new Clothes section and continuing to try out design ideas with the shadows. I decided to try and write the full Emperor’s new Clothes story in rhyming couplets which was a fun challenge and has definitely helped me to get to grips with the plot. I’m not sure whether it will stay as complete verse, but some sections are working very well.

Day Three

In the morning I started off by reading through all the script I had written so far and decided to concentrate on writing in more scenes with John and Sal, the narrator characters of Shadow Stories. I also needed to think about how the two stories would work together. After giving it some thought I decided to run with the idea of placing the Emperor’s new Clothes within the story of the Ugly Duckling; like a play within a play. This worked quite nicely and allowed for a shift in the style of storytelling. I then began thinking more about the design of the show and came up with some ideas for posters. I was beginning to build an aesthetic for the puppets so I tried to mirror that in the poster ideas. I finished the day by starting work on an alternative version of the Emperor’s new Clothes which featured the two swindlers as comical clown characters, using Balinese Bondres as the basis for the characteristics.

Day Four

Started by working on the alternative Emperor’s new Clothes scenes. Then I had some time with Menagerie Artistic Director Patrick Morris who helped confirm some areas of the script which still needed work, particularly in the simplifying of language and keeping the rhythm of the poetry varied. We also discussed how the staging might work and how visuals and dialogue might work together. I then finished writing the alternative Emperor’s new Clothes section and then found a way to slot the two versions together.

I left in the afternoon to begin the journey down to Devon for Above Bounds’ performance of Portrait for New Model Theatre’s BETA evening at The House in  Plymouth.