ERIC CARLE’S The Very Hungry Caterpillar is one of the world’s best-loved children’s stories, having sold some 30 million copies internationally since it was first published in 1969.
Now Nova Scotia’s Mermaid Theatre Company have brought Carle’s classic story to the stage in a stunningly beautiful blacklight puppet production which is sure to be one of the highlights of this year’s Baboró festival.
Also on the same bill are two of Carle’s other magical children’s tales, Little Cloud and The Mixed Up Chameleon.
The show has been adapted, directed, and designed by Mermaid’s artistic director Jim Morrow and over an afternoon phone call he talked about bringing Carle’s classic stories to the stage, but first he began by outlining Mermaid’s history.
“The company began in 1972 here in Nova Scotia as a rural touring theatre company with the idea of bringing theatre to schools in rural Nova Scotia and promote reading and puppetry,” he says. “All of our plays are based on storybooks that children are reading and have an element of animation and puppetry and that continues up to today. Now our touring has expanded from the schools of Nova Scotia to the world.”
Morrow joined Mermaid in 1978, initially as a performer and then graduating to directing and designing shows and becoming the company’s artistic director in 1991. He describes the challenge of adapting Carle’s much-loved books.
“When the characters in the book are so iconic, children know them intimately,” he says. “One of the greatest challenges is to creates three-dimensional representations of these two-dimensional characters in such a way that children can immediately recognise who they are.
“Our job is, for the first time ever, to take these iconic characters and move them through space in a way that will have a child going ‘Yes, that’s exactly how that should move.’ A lot of experimenting takes place, firstly from the carving and creating and ‘three-dimensionalising’ and then working on moving the actual objects through space and co-ordinating that with beautiful music.
“The experience for the child is exciting and new but there’s also something very familiar about the whole experience because most of them are very familiar with the language of the book and the story itself.”
Morrow describes the kind of puppetry Mermaid deploy in their productions.
“One of the difficulties we have when we promote ourselves as a puppet theatre company is that when one thinks of puppets one immediately thinks of certain styles of puppets - a glove puppet or marionette or Punch and Judy - whereas we think of the characters we use in our stories more as objects than puppets.
“Eventually some of them will become puppets but we also move objects through space, we animate objects as well as puppets so when we’re creating a show we don’t depend on traditional forms necessarily, although we have incorporated some.
“What we do is we look at the needs of the play and create objects that best serve those needs. Then we learn how to animate those objects. Sometimes they’ll have rods to move them through space so they’ll become rod puppets but not traditional rod puppets; sometimes we’ll incorporate a string or two but they’re not necessarily traditional marionette.
“So we don’t really follow the puppet rules, we’re more into the business of object animation and object movement though obviously some of those objects will be puppets.”
This will be Mermaid’s first time performing in the Republic of Ireland and Morrow is particularly looking forward to the experience as it enables him to explore his roots;
“My heritage is Irish,” he reveals. “The Morrows were from western Ireland and so I’m particularly interested in going to what I consider home and look around and smell the place!”
The Very Hungry Caterpillar & other favourites plays at the Town Hall from Thursday October 14 to Sunday 17. There are two shows daily, full details and booking from the Town Hall (091 - 569777, www.tht.ie ) or www.baboro.ie