Olivia Jacobs is one of the founding artistic directors of the award-winning theatre company Tall Stories. She spoke to BroadwayWorld about directing The Gruffalo’s Child, coming soon to Alexandra Palace.
What was your favourite storybook when you were little?
When I was really little, I loved it when my mum and dad read me Mr Tickle. I loved the whole story from start to finish – and the anticipation of being tickled at the ending.
As I grew up, I moved onto Roald Dahl, Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking, and the ever wonderful To Kill a Mockingbird. Great stories – well told.
You’ve had a lot of success adapting stories by Julia Donaldson, Alex Scheffler and others for the stage. What is your favourite part of the adaption process?
The first question we ask in any process is “why are we telling this story now?”. It might feel like pure escapism, and we never want our shows to feel like a lesson, but stories tend to have a depth of meaning that resonates more with humankind than facts learnt in a more traditional setting.
I love developing the why and how – the early moments in the devising process where we try loads of different ideas without too much of a deadline…
And the most challenging?
The most challenging section is different in every story. In Room on the Broom, it was always going to be how to fly five characters on a tiny broom. In The Gruffalo’s Child, it was how to make the Gruffalo feel much bigger than his human-sized child. In The Snail and the Whale, it was how to present a snail and a whale on stage!
Overriding it all though, whatever the production, there never seems to be enough time…
For those unfamiliar with The Gruffalo’s Child, what can we expect?
The Gruffalo’s Child has been warned by her father never to venture into the woods as she may run into the Big Bad Mouse. But ever-adventurous, she decides to head off on into the snow in search of the infamous scary rodent… and who doesn’t love an adventure?
This stage adaptation brings Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s brilliant story to life with songs, laughter, a sprinkling of snow and a lot of adventure. It’s a fun-packed furry treat for little ones and for their big’uns too.
What do you think makes a good story?
Simplicity and a great deal of heart.
What reassurance can you give our readers about Alexandra Palace being a COVID-safe venue?
Alexandra Palace has vast and beautiful grounds, free parking, big open interior spaces and to top it all off, an ice rink and Santa’s Grotto. We’ve worked extremely hard with the wonderful team at Alexandra Palace to make a safe and secure environment for our audiences.
We’re only selling every other row (so you will always have an empty row behind and in front of you), and each booking will find two empty seats on either side of them – allowing lots of space for social distancing. There’s a one-way system in place and plenty of hand sanitiser for our audiences to use.
Whilst it may feel a bit different to normal, we all deserve a lovely day out this Christmas. We can’t wait to bring live theatre safely to audiences at Alexandra Palace – and to welcome folks to the ice rink, Santa’s Grotto and the beautiful grounds of Alexandra Palace for a festive treat!
How have you found hope or solace in this difficult year for the sector?
We’re all faced with uncertainty at the moment – so we’ve probably got a sense of what it must have felt like for the Gruffalo’s Child to step out into the deep dark wood!
We’ve needed to work fast, adapt quickly and be ready for any new government announcement to ensure that we are one step ahead, always keeping our cast, crew and audiences safe at all times.
A year ago who could have predicted that we’d be taking temperatures, testing for COVID, and wearing masks in our rehearsals room! It’s certainly been a difficult time, but I’ve been proud of our resilience as a sector.
Even in difficult times, we adapt to find new ways to ignite creativity and delight audiences – online or in the flesh. We’re thrilled that after nearly a year away from the stage, we’re able to bring some festive fun to a live audience this Christmas.
Any advice for aspiring directors?
Be open, listen, watch and make links with companies whose work you like. Don’t wait for things to happen; get on your feet, and try.
Are there any other projects you’d like to tell us about?
Once The Gruffalo’s Child opens, Tall Stories head straight into rehearsals for live-streamed performances of The Gruffalo. The show will be streamed from our new Studio in Islington in association with The Lowry in Salford, where we had hoped to play this Christmas.
We’re hugely excited to be working on this, our second live-stream, bringing The Gruffalo live to your sofa this Christmas… Check out our website for more information.
Watch out too for our new production, The Smeds and the Smoos, which is coming your way in 2021!
If you had to spend lockdown with one of the characters from The Gruffalo’s Child, who would you pick?
Such a tough question. I wouldn’t trust Fox – he’d sell his own Grandma. I imagine Snake is terribly messy, and Owl would probably finish off the Christmas brandy before I got a look in. The Gruffalo would simply take up too much room in my house!
In the end, I’d have to choose between Mouse and the Gruffalo’s Child herself. At a push, I think I’d opt for the Gruffalo’s Child. I think she’d be great fun in lockdown!
Why should people come to see The Gruffalo’s Child?
This has been a difficult year for everyone, young and old (and even for those of us in the middle!) We have never needed to laugh, smile and escape for a while, as much as we do now.
Live theatre gives audiences a chance to do that, to be actively engaged together, to laugh together, to cheer together, to root for the hero together. There’s nothing quite like it.
Going to the theatre might feel like more of an adventure this year, but The Gruffalo’s Child is the perfect Christmas treat for the whole family. Bring your little monsters along for a roaring good time…
The Gruffalo’s Child is part of Christmas at Ally Pally which includes Santa’s Grotto, Christmas film screenings and ice skating, all from 5 December
Photo credit: Lesley Cook