Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain R&D

Emily, Ben, Jesse, Kerry and Ruby taking in the wonders of Bristol aquarium.

Monday by Emily

From one R&D to another. From politics to Puffa fish. From School students to Ships and shores.

It was an exciting first day of researching and developing with a slightly smaller version of the Wardrobe team. Fuelled with newly acquired oceanic knowledge, we fed back our research, spanning from knot demonstrations (the ‘vanishing knot’ was a particular favourite) to the origins of the Sea Shanty. The Marx Brothers provided amusement packing into a cabin room, as did Mr Bean attempting to put on his speedos. We had an immersive learning experience with Scatty McFurgus (aka Jesse Meadows) who told us every role and ranking on a steamship. This was rather wonderful.

Boat lessons were put aside to discuss how we might approach our own nautical adventure, asking ourselves what we think might work for a show under 7’s and what might not. Eesh! 0–7 yrs! After a week of exploring ‘the psychological pressures on teachers’, this week required some creative hat swapping to adapt to our new target audience. 0–7 yrs is also a massive age range in changing person terms. We questioned how we could cater to all of these little people without making some feel bored and others alienated; some too scared and others not challenged enough? How could we include the bigger audience members too? These are all exciting questions that we will take into the coming week, and while we gather inspiration from our trips to the Aquarium and SS Great Britain.

Tuesday by Jesse

Fluorescent Jellies

We took a trip to… BRISTOL AQUARIUM! We saw sea horses wrapping their tales around each other in a frenzy, we saw Simon the puffer fish who only has 10 puffs, Fred going round in circles, the long nosed Unicorn Tang, turtles and stingrays and crabs, Bolt the electric eel who was found at Heathrow, fluorescent jellyfish, giant lobsters, and, of course, Dory and Nemo. We learnt to say anemone instead of anenome.

We imagined Little Tim looking through the porthole at all these magical creatures. We imagined lots and lots of bubbles. We played with writing songs and meeting Tim in a bathtub.

Wednesday by Kerry

Hump day — but not for us! Today we started by watching some of the video clips of previous work we’d done for the show a few months back. Cue old hair cuts and videos of other ensemble members being very silly. But we were certainly reminded of how fruitful those early days work were and immediately made a list of all our favourite moments.

Then we moved onto finishing our big improvisation of the structure we had created — including the back end of the show. This currently involves a walking rock, a big ol’ storm and several mugs of hot cocoa.

Kerry doing her best to move the giant anchor

To top off the day we did another fantastic school trip to the mighty SS Great Britain. What an adventure! The history of the ship was fascinating and it really helped to give us an idea of mechanics, scale and smells that would have come from a working ship of that size. What will stick with me going forward into our R&D for Little Tim is the original anchor underneath the dry dock. Not only was it absolutely gigantic, it had been bent and misshapen which was probably (they guessed) down to the huge force of a storm the ship had sailed through. If the power of the ocean can morph (very) heavy cast iron then we’ve got one hell of a storm to create for our show!

Thursday by Ben

Today was all about combining and refining. We’ve made so much material, all of it joyous and odd in its own special way, but as per usual when we devise a show; we’ve made too much! After less than a week of R&D, we’ve probably produced enough material to stage a sprawling 5-hour maritime epic, but alas the Old Vic only want 45 minutes of our wares. And so this morning, with our theatrical Pritt Sticks and Stanley knives in hand, we took to chopping and changing, cutting and pasting, putting things in, taking them out, and shaking them all about, until we were left with a roughly-cobbled shape, a sort of loveable mess of a thing, that we could conceivably put in front of some human beings, and expect them — with a reasonable level of certainty — to vaguely be on board with.

In the afternoon, we experimented with music. We learned a traditional Sea Shanty, and also pottered around in a sort of sand pit of musical instruments, plucking a ukulele here, tooting a clarinet there, composing all sorts of dainty ditties and salty sea-songs. By the end of the day we felt ready for Friday, the day of our first ever showing of Little Tim and the Brave Sea Captain.

Bolt loves a sea shanty

Friday by Ruby

We started Friday of R&D looking at the casting of the show. With a cast of four and many, many characters to introduce we had some fun playing around with the different ways to multi-role. The cast are creating most of the music live on stage which means that’s it is all hands on deck to create the people and places of the play through lots of physical theatre. We tried out 3 different configurations of casting and finally settled on one that made the most sense as the play went on.

Making a book into a play often means choosing which parts help to drive the story forward and which parts would be lost in theatrical setting and we have had several discussions about the character of The Cook in the book and how he translates onto the stage. We tried out a few scenes with Tim and The Cook, to play with the dynamics of their relationship. We looked at how the cook could have octopus like qualities (an idea that came from our earlier trip to the aquarium).

In the afternoon we showed the first few scenes to the team from Bristol Old Vic. This was a good chance to try out some of the audience participation (although the actual audience will be a lot younger!). They had a really positive response and enjoyed the use of newspapers as birds and mountains in Little Tim’s imagination.

Ruby’s magic book

At the end of the day we had a discussion about Design in which I asked the group some questions. We made a list of decisions we had made about the visual elements of the play which included ‘we want to use levels in the set’ and ‘we want some surreal and surprising costumes for specific moments’. The space is very exciting in some ways and very restrictive in others. It has really high ceilings but no backstage. This means we don’t have a lot of space for big Set pieces, and the play is set in lots of different settings so the set needs to be both versatile and economical.

The Future by Helena

And so ends our week of R&D and now we’ve got a bit of time to let our discoveries ferment and to brush up on our accordion skills. We love making shows for this age group, not only because it means we are allowed to be very very silly but also because it is an incredible privilege to potentially be responsible for a person’s first EVER theatre experience. That’s pretty amazing.

A team trip to the S S Great Britain

The show will be performed at the Lantern in the Colston Hall from 2 Dec — 8 Jan and you can get your tickets here: http://www.bristololdvic.org.uk/littletim.html

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