Christmas is nearly here folks! And there are plenty of festive theatre shows for all the family to enjoy across Greater Manchester throughout the season. One which has caught our eye this year is the stage adaptation of the much-loved book Mr Popper’s Penguins. We caught up with Emma Earle (Director of the show and Co-Artistic Director of Pins and Needles Productions) ahead of it’s run at Waterside Arts Centre, Sale.
MR POPPER’S PENGUINS
How did you acquire the licensing for such a huge book?
EMMA EARLE: Pins and Needles approached Kenny Wax Family Entertainment with the idea to do a stage adaptation of the book by Richard and Florence Atwater. KWFE then acquired the rights.
Have you referred back to the original 1938 book or is this closer to Hollywood movie?
EMMA EARLE: Our adaptation is very much based on the original book, rather than the movie. Upon reading the book, we felt the story lent itself brilliantly to being re-imagined on the stage. The book is a children’s classic in America, but less well established over here. We saw an opportunity to bring Mr and Mrs Popper and their comical struggles to manage their beloved penguins, to children over here.
P-P-P-PICK UP A PENGUIN
We saw your production of Father Christmas last year, can we expect similar themes?
EMMA EARLE: You can expect hummable tunes, lots of Christmassy warmth and mischievous animal puppets.
Excellent, just as we hoped! How big was the challenge to create the penguins live on stage?
EMMA EARLE: Our challenge was how to present a family of 10 penguins (8 children and 2 parents) on stage with only 4 performers. We worked with Nick Barnes who designed and made the puppets to ensure that Mr and Mrs Popper feel over run by penguins. It’s a logistical and choreographic feat!
How big was the challenge filling a giant Jim Carrey sized-hole?
EMMA EARLE: Our Mr Popper more than lives up to Jim Carrey’s version! But seriously, our take on the character is really different. He’s a shambolic but loveable house painter instead of a work obsessed business man with no time for his family.
PINS & NEEDLES PRODUCTIONS
At Pins & Needles you talk about creating “imaginative ways of telling stories to challenge expectations and ignite younger audiences’ senses” – what are some of the more unusual methods you’ve used to achieve this over the years?
EMMA EARLE: Theatricality and magic is really important to us so we’ve used all sorts of different techniques over the years – shadow puppetry, using miniatures, illusions, object manipulation, Foley, stylised movement and dance, 2D illustrations, animation, hand held lighting, audience participation… all sorts. Anything that gets audiences’ imaginations fired up!
Do you have your eyes on any other book adaptations or family movies that you feel can be brought to the stage?
EMMA EARLE: Yes, but sadly nothing that we can announce just yet! New projects will be announced in the new year so watch this space!
We recently interviewed Will Becher (Aardman) who spoke of the challenges but charm of stop-motion animation. It’s a similar story with stage productions, right?
EMMA EARLE: Live theatre for young audiences is special because it’s live. It engages our hearts and minds in a different way to screen based media. We love celebrating the liveness with our audiences by showing actors jump in and out of many roles, turn an everyday object into a puppet etc.
For a theatre novice, what do you recommend to go and see at the moment?
EMMA EARLE: Our show ‘Oi Frog and Friends!’ (adapted from the bestselling books by Kes Gray and Jim Field) is at the Lyric Theatre in the West End over Christmas, and touring throughout 2020. Or our beloved ‘Father Christmas’ and ‘The Bear’, both of which have played at Waterside, are at Lyric Hammersmith, Warwick Arts Centre, Norden Arts and touring.
Otherwise, we’d recommend anything by Les Enfants Terribles, Insane Root, Travelling Light, Kneehigh, Gecko and Wise Children.
What does the future hold for the production? Can it continue beyond Christmas?
EMMA EARLE: We would love to see our penguins tour the UK in future. They’ve spent a lot of time in the USA charming people, and we’d like them to do the same here.
What does the future hold for Pins & Needles?
We have four exciting new projects in development – for a range of ages – and will be announcing in early 2020. So watch this space!
Mr Popper’s Penguins opens to the public on 27 November and runs until 31 December. Schools performances are also available – for a full breakdown see: www.watersidearts.org/popperspenguins
The show is recommended for children aged between 3 and 11.
Cookies and milk packs are also available to pre-order along with your tickets for just an extra £2.50 each for all shows.
Children (and adults too!) are invited to come in their PJs and bring a favourite bedtime teddy to the 6pm Slumber Shows to make their theatre experience a real bedtime treat!