The festive season is upon us which can only mean one thing. No, I’m not talking about mulled wine and hog roasts at the Christmas Market. I’m referring to the slew of shows due to hit our theatres in the run up to the big day.
I am one of those irritatingly over-eager people who loves nothing more than a marathon of festive tales. So when the opportunity arose to interview children’s television and stage writer Emma Reeves about her collaboration with Leeds-based theatre company tutti frutti, I was there with Christmas bells on.
Reeves has an impressive CV. Last year the playwright adapted Jacqueline Wilson’s Hetty Feather for the stage and was subsequently nominated in the Best Entertainment and Family category at the Olivier Awards.
“Oh yes, it was wonderful,” she says rather modestly of the accolade.
She has also written episodes for the forthcoming television version of Hetty Feather, co-created and written the hit CBBC series Eve, and penned episodes for more Wilson favourites such as The Dumping Ground and Tracy Beaker Returns.
Reeves says: “When I was asked to work on the story of Tracy Beaker, that was where I really discovered Jacqueline’s work. I thought her books were brilliant and, when Hetty Feather was suggested, I was very excited as it is Jacqueline’s first book that is not in a contemporary setting all the way through, it’s her first work of historical fiction.’
It comes as no surprise that Wendy Harris, tutti frutti’s director, wanted Reeves to be involved with the company’s latest project, Snow Child, showing at The Lowry, Salford Quays from December 22, 2015 until January 3, 2016.
“I had written Hetty Feather which Wendy had seen, and she approached me saying that she was looking for someone to write a new Christmas show for them. She suggested this folk tale of The Snow Child and I just thought it sounded really beautiful.”
Inspired by Arthur Ransome’s adaptation of The Little Daughter of the Snow, the play will also feature music by Ollie Birch and movement by Joanne Bernard.
“It is loosely based on Ransom’s version. But it’s also quite an old Russian folk tale. There are various sorts of versions of it out there. I just thought it could potentially be a beautiful Christmas show.”
More familiar with writing for a slightly older audience, Snow Child is Reeves’ first play for this age group. So what attracted her to this particular tale?
“Wendy has been directing for tutti frutti for ten years, and tutti frutti has been going for a long time before that. They really are experts in creating shows for a younger age group so they are the perfect people to work with.”
There’s no doubt that tutti frutti is impressive. A touring theatre company based in Leeds, they create high quality work for children aged three and over and have been doing so for 23 years. Most impressively, they not only tour nationally but internationally, performing in schools, venues, arts centres, and even village halls.
With theatre slowly slipping off the school curriculum, does Reeves think it is important that shows like Snow Child help to inspire children?
“Jacqueline Wilson said herself that it seems to be more difficult at the moment to ensure all children have access to theatre than it probably was when I was young. We had companies coming into schools to stage plays, and we all had school trips to the theatre quite a lot. Fewer companies are taking their plays into schools.
“I think it’s very important to have that interaction with actual actors, to have live theatre in the same room as you. In Snow Child there are only three actors who play all the instruments.” The props are sparse and imaginative. “They use trees that become brushes and then become trees again and I think this sort of playful story telling is really inspiring for children.”
Does Reeves prefer writing for television or theatre?
“I like them both in different ways. There’s something very special about working for the theatre and you get to collaborate with the actors and have so much to do with how the show is put together.”
As an aspiring writer of children’s fiction, I was interested to find out if Reeves found children more difficult to please than adults.
“I think they are a very discerning audience. If they don’t like something, they will tell you and they won’t stick around. But they also really care about the shows that they choose to invest in.” She’s quite right. When I think about some of my favourite children’s novels adapted by Reeves over the years – most notably Carrie’s War and Little Women – a protective instinct arises for the characters and storylines of such familiar narratives.
“Whenever there are polls of the nation’s favourite books, the very high voted books tend to be those read when we were quite young. The stuff that you read and watch when you’re very young, well, it stays with you for the rest of your life.”
Snow Child is at The Lowry in Salford from December 22, 2015 until January 3, 2016. For more information, click here. It is touring until March 2016. More details here. Snow Child is a tutti frutti production in collaboration with York Theatre Royal.