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Slot Machine Theatre this month returns to Midlands Arts Centre (MAC) with another festive offering: an adaptation of Nick Butterworth’s classic Percy The Park Keeper story, One Snowy Night. We caught up with two of the company’s three artistic directors, Nick Tigg and Nicola Blackwell, to chat about the latest show - and their intention to make it snow at MAC!...
What makes One Snowy Night such a great festive show?
Nicola: The Percy The Park Keeper books are so well loved. The illustrations are just gorgeous, and it's a really simple, understandable tale. It's about a really kind and elderly park keeper who's friends with all the animals. One night it snows in the park, so one by one the animals knock on his door and squash into the hut to keep warm. Then a certain amount of chaos ensues.
Nick: At this point in time, shows are often taking on a whole new meaning to what they did two years ago. People wanting to get together and celebrate looking after each other is a really big thing at the moment, and that's exactly what One Snowy Night is about.
Talking of those beautiful illustrations, how have you brought them alive on stage?
Nicola: When we first did One Snowy Night about 12 years ago, we worked really closely with Nick Butterworth to get the whole play as close to the original as possible. I designed the costumes and props while literally just referring to the book, alongside all the other Park Keeper books. We tried to reference ridiculously minute details, too.
Nick: For example, one day I was trying to construct the little noticeboard you see in Percy's hut. On it there's some really bizarre stuff, like a letter from Prince Charles and a conker on a string. What you really have to consider, though, is how to turn 15-ish pages of a book into 50 minutes of stage time. You have to expand on what’s there, but at the same time you want kids to be able to recognise every single frame from the book, right there in front of them. We're absolutely fanatical about it. Many children have no qualms about saying that they see something they don't like or which doesn't match the book. There's no escape!
What makes Slot Machine Theatre stand out from the crowd?
Nicola: We have a thing about having really high-quality music in our shows, so the tracks are really complex and often quite a big sing for people. Nick gets in some really top-quality session musicians to record some of the material, which is quite different to how a lot of companies at our relatively modest scale work. A lot of time and effort gets put into the composition and mixing, so our soundtracks do add huge production value.
Nick: People are perfectly happy to play Mozart to their baby while it's in the womb, or have it listen to all the music they listen to on a daily basis, but the moment they're born, it's all about The Wheels On The Bus. Children should be treated with respect for their intelligence, and great music is a part of that.
What's the best thing about putting on family shows?
Nicola: There's nothing better than seeing so many generations sitting side by side in the theatre. Also, seeing the reactions of children who wouldn't usually be able to go to the theatre is amazing. Accessibility is really important to us, so we need to make it funny and have simple songs, without being patronising or uninteresting. If English isn't someone’s first language, for example, or a child is still very, very young and struggling with language, then we still want them to go away from our shows with an understanding of the story and having enjoyed it. That's key for us.
Nick: There are sections of physical comedy in our adaptations, where we do something very silly and then keep doing it and doing it, but children find it funnier and funnier. Every performance of Kipper the last time we were at MAC had at least one kid in total hysterics at one point or another at some deliberately stupid part of the show. Equally, parents and grandparents can't be surrounded by all those laughing kids without joining in to some extent too, so it has a wonderful ricochet effect.
Nicola: This is such a feelgood story in general, so I hope people leave with that indescribable warm, fuzzy feeling that you get when you've just really enjoyed a show.
Nick: We do try to do things that are quite magical in our shows, like making it snow in the theatre so the kids can't quite figure out where it’s come from. Yes, spoiler alert, it will snow in Cannon Hill Park this year, regardless of the actual weather! To have it snow inside is really mind-blowing for a lot of young people, and you can really hear them getting excited about it.
Nicola: They also have a thing for glitter balls! There's always a massive gasp when we get it out, even though they're such an easy effect. It's always really sweet!
Nick: To show a young person that the theatre can be a truly fun experience - and one they'll want to repeat - is so magical and rewarding.
One Snowy Night shows at Midlands Arts Centre, Birmingham, from Tuesday 16 November to Tuesday 28 December. For ticket prices and to book, visit: macbirmingham.co.uk
Posted on Fri 26 Nov