Interview With…Ed Stambollouian

We chatted to the director about Curse of the Crackles – a new audio adventure for children.

Hi Ed, could you tell me a bit more about what Curse of the Crackles is about? The Crackles are a group of mischievous little gremlins who’ve taken all the sounds in the universe and mixed them up. So, when a cow moos it sounds like an opera singer, and when an opera singer sings, it sounds like a moo! It’s total sound chaos! In Curse of the Crackles, the audience go on a quest, accompanied by Riff (the most excellentist puppy), to catch the mixed-up sounds (in jam jars) and put them back in the right place. It’s an adventure that takes you from wild jungles to shark infested oceans, from high-speed car chases to dark dungeons, from buzzing beehives to
Buckingham Palace! And it’s all realised in 3D sound, placing you, the audience member, at the very heart of the action. Like a 3D film for your ears!

Could you tell a bit more about the sound technology that you have used in the show? I collaborated with Ben and Max Ringham on the show. We’ve worked together many times, most recently on Night School for the Pinter at the Pinter Season. They’ve led the charge on 3D headphone shows for theatre with projects like ANNA at the National, and Blindness at the Donmar (a headphone monologue with Juliet Stevenson). The show is recorded on a microphone that’s made to look like a human head. It records sound in 360 degrees, so if a tiger is stalking you, you’ll really feel as it creeps closer and closer. It’s an incredibly vivid quality of sound, and it has a truly
immersive feel. Close your eyes and you’ll be right in the jungle with Riff. If you’re brave enough…

How would you say that creating a show for children compare with creating a show for an older
Bea Roberts wrote the script, and she has a great track record making work for young audiences (her
production of Little Mermaid at the Egg in Bath won Best Show for Children and Young People at the
UK Theatre Awards). Her imagination and sense of humour is the perfect fit. It’s been fun making
something that is unashamedly silly. Theatre makers tend to take things a little too seriously, so to
make a show with joy as a guiding principle is liberating. We’ve also been surprised by audiences’
willingness to jump in. We thought that we would need to over-explain for a young audience, but in
reality, they’re like “OK, I’m going on a quest through a sound door with a talking dog, now what?”.

How have you found the experience of putting this production together? It’s been an incredibly creative process. Ben and Max have a philosophy when sourcing sounds of “if we can make it ourselves, then we should!”. So, there was a lot of improvised Foley. When we wanted a rainstorm, we stood on chairs and tipped out watering cans onto the floor. When we wanted to light a canon’s fuse, we used a box of matches and a sparkler. And, when the monkey starts throwing bananas in the jungle, it’s actually Lizzie, our Stage Manager, throwing real bananas
at a piece of wood. We even hired a car to record the car-chase sequence in, so we could capture
the authentic acoustic of being in the driver’s seat! We found ourselves looking at a props table full
of stuff saying “how do we make the sound of a chicken escaping from a jam jar?!”. It’s that kind of
question that made this process such a treat.

Would you say that there have been any particular challenges in putting Curse of the Crackles
Because of COVID restrictions we had to keep the number of people in the room down to a
minimum. So, we worked with just two actors on the piece – the insanely talented Norah Lopez
Holden and Sam Swann. But the story demands a cast of many, many more than two. Scenes like the
pirate ship need not only Riff and Captain Crowsfeet, but an entire crew of singing pirates! Ben and
Max did some real wizardry with layering up our voices in the space, making our small team seem
like a ship-full of grog-swilling, shanty-singing pirates! So, it’s a perfect match up of technological
magic, with some brilliantly versatile performers. In the beehive, Riff meets a whole swarm of bees,
all called Nevil. There’s 40,312 Nevil’s in total and Sam plays every single one of them!

What are you most looking forward to about people experiencing Curse of the Crackles? We tried out the show with a few young test audiences, and the most thrilling thing was seeing them
physically react to the sound. Whether it’s frantically swimming away from sharks, ducking to avoid
a flying banana, or drawing an imaginary “sound door” in the sky. Seeing that reaction is the best
feeling! Curse of the Crackles is a little bit of escapism for an audience who’ve been stuck inside for
the last year. It allows you to travel to places and do things that you can’t in lockdown. And it gets
you using your imagination in a really active way, something that TV or film doesn’t do so well.

By Emma Clarendon

Curse of the Crackles is available to listen to via Shoreditch Town Hall. For more information visit: can check out our review here.

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