Sunday, December 09, 2012

Small, and very funny - interview with Roman Stefanski, producer of Charlie & Lola's Best Bestest Play

THE HAYMARKET in Basingstoke is currently bringing Lauren Child’s much-loved characters Charlie and Lola to life through the magic of puppetry for a pre-Christmas treat for under sixes.

The director for the BBC Worldwide and Polka Theatre production of Charlie & Lola’s Best Bestest Play, ROMAN STEFANSKI, told CATRIONA REEVES how he took on the challenge of bringing the delightful siblings’ visually lush and “very funny” world view from the page and television screen to the stage.

CATRIONA REEVES: How did you go about adapting such beloved stories for the stage?

ROMAN STEFANSKI: Playwright Jonathan Lloyd and I knew that we wanted to create a show which was an exciting and engaging piece of theatre and one which was instantly recognisable to its young audience. Children can be the most demanding and the most rewarding audiences but they do know what they like and you don’t mess around with their favourite stories.

Having said that, children are also sometimes more adventurous than adults – for example, they instantly accept that you see the puppeteers as well as the puppets.  Seeing an actor behind a puppet doesn’t stop youngsters completely entering into the world of the show – children call out to Charlie or Lola, comment on the action, warn them what’s about to happen and so on.

CR: The show has been created for the under-sixes who know Charlie and Lola from the Lauren Child books and CBeebies. How do you ensure that they identify the puppets as “their” Charlie and Lola?

RS: One of the big decisions we made, early on, was to use a recorded sound track which was created by the child actors who voice the tv show.  Again, it’s all about recognisability and those two voices are the ones which thousands of Charlie and Lola fans identify with.

CR: Do the puppeteers enjoy working on the show?

RS: We’ve been doing it for four or five years now, and over time quite a few actor/puppeteers have worked on it.  They love the show and the reaction they get from audiences and quite often they’ll work with us for a while, then go away and then come back again. For example, Ruth Calkin, who is Bat Cat in Basingstoke, went off to work on a big tour of In The Night Garden but has come back to join Charlie and Lola.

Puppetry requires a very high degree of skill – not just dexterity but acting skills as well – if you don’t enter into the spirit of the show, and the character you’re presenting, it wouldn’t be a success.

CR: Is it particularly challenging to produce a show for very young children?

RS: The show works on all kinds of levels – the older children see more subtleties and recognise stories they know but often we find parents bring along young siblings who just enjoy the lights and the music, even if they don’t fully follow the stories.

We do include one slightly scary story, from the books and the tv series – the story of Lola and the Ogre – but it all ends happily!

Charlie & Lola’s Best Bestest Play, presented by Watershed Productions, runs at The Haymarket until Friday, December 15. Tickets are priced £10 and £12.  Discounts are available, including for parents and childminders who may wish to attend as a group.  For more information or for tickets, call the Anvil Arts box office on (01256) 844244,  Or use the Anvil Arts website

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on December 7, 2012

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