The Director and Co-Adapter of The Everywhere Bear chatted to us about bringing the book to the Polka Theatre stage.
Could you explain what The Everywhere Bear is about? The Everywhere Bear is a beautiful story by Julia Donaldson and Rebecca Cobb about a toy bear who gets taken home from school by a different child in Class One every weekend. Unfortunately, when ‘new boy’ Matt takes him, The Everywhere Bear falls out of his rucksack and ends up going on an extraordinary journey down a drain , out to sea , on to a fishing boat, into a skip and being carried across the sky by a seagull, before ending up in a library , where he is thankfully reunited with Class One once again. A lovely circularity to the tale.
What has it been like being involved with bringing the story to the stage? The combination of the evocative illustrations and the playful rhythmic language created a great canvas to start working from . Together with Julian Butler (composer and co-writer) images and songs started to emerge , which enabled us to storyboard the play, ensuring we were not only re-telling the story but also exploring some of the themes (friendship/caring/loss/the power of stories) in more detail . Key questions for us were how to adapt a short read into a 40-minute play and how to realise the extraordinary journey of the Bear across the sky and under the sea. As with our work on ‘The Paper Dolls’, we decided to use puppetry and worked closely with Jan Zalud who carved the beautiful puppets for the production.
I was keen from the onset that our Bear wouldn’t talk, allowing space for the children in the audience to imaginatively interact with the puppet – bringing him to life in their mind in the same way the children in Class One did. This placed a huge emphasis on visual theatre moments where the rhythm of the action , the choreography of the puppetry and the atmosphere of the music guided the emotional thrust of the scenes. It also allowed Julian to write lyrics which provided a commentary on the action, a third person prospective, which shifted from pathos to the comedic. We are also indebted to our actors who created characters through drama exercises and improvisation to bring some of our embryonic ideas to life, and elements of film which added another theatrical dimension as well as allowing us to neatly transition through some very difficult scene changes.
How did you get involved with The Everywhere Bear? As Artistic Director of Polka Theatre at the time, I had the wonderful task of choosing the plays we would present on stage. Having successfully collaborated as a co-producer previously with Royal and Derngate Theatre and Little Angel Theatre, adapting Tove Jansson’s ‘Momminsummer Madness’, we were all keen to work together again. I shared my ideas with the co-producers and met Julia Donaldson to see if she was happy for us to move forward with adapting the book. Fortunately, she was! From there we spent 18 months working through a period of research and development before going into rehearsals with the production. I am delighted that following the initial runs in Wimbledon, Islington and Northampton, it is being revived.
What do you enjoy the most about doing what you do? Theatre is a collaborative process which cannot work without creative ideas and input across a team – this is what I enjoy the most. You are supported by the producers you work with , the creativity of the actors, the designers who bring the world to life, the composer, the lighting designer, scenic artists, puppet makers and many many more. Critically, with theatre for children, they too are such a key part of the process . We are continually learning from children’s responses to the show , particularly through the research process and the opening previews.
By Emma Clarendon
The Everywhere Bear will play at the Polka Theatre from the 27th May until the 13th August.