Monday, 26 December 2016

Goodnight Mister Tom - A Hindsight

What a beautiful production! It has honestly been magical to become so heavily involved with the creation of this play, from my first meeting in Cambridge with producer Louis Ling and director Sarah Phelps to discuss the puppets, to things developing in such a way that I was given the opportunity to also work on the scenic artistry with Esmé Wells ( and fill the role of Stage Manager for the first time.

After Sammy was created and carefully delivered to Cambridge, William Males, puppeteer, set about learning how to create the illusion of life with him - and before the show came on visited not only various schools and the Cambridge Christmas lights turn on, but even BBC Radio Cambridge. Jeremy Sallis, presenter, was so impressed with Sammy that he even took a video and uploaded it to facebook;

After completing the puppets for the production (also including a hedge sparrow and a squirrel - simple rod-operated puppets for the children of the cast to puppeteer), work began on the set after a previous agreement with a certain scenic art company fell through.. The set carpentry was done by Oliver Ellerton in the Scenery Barn, part of the Viva theatre group, where we also painted and detailed it. The set went through a few revisions before completion, and pictures are stronger than words in this case; so here's a few of the process.

Wood textured & detailed door frame. Ply & MDF were used in parts throughout
the set to be able make what we wanted within the budget.

Adding grimy details to Mrs Beech's London apartment.
The cast were very excited to finally get to rehearse with the set after our get in on the Sunday before show week. It's been a new experience for me to work with children and their fresh energy for theatre is very encouraging. The young cast of this production are incredible - both actors and scene changers - and it's inspiring to see them blossom at such young ages. Trying out directing of the puppetry was definitely a learning curve - one must have faith in their opinions of what looks convincing and what does not, whilst still being supportive and kind to the actors - having this boldness is something that I must improve on. Stage managing felt very natural even on the first night - dress rehearsal was full of rushing around and working under pressure and it was great. It's incredibly exciting to be a piston under the hood of theatre, keeping the engine well oiled and running smoothly with every prop and set piece ready and waiting - and on the ball to find mysteriously disappearing prop babies whilst one of the chaperones hurriedly makes a stand-in out of an orange and some knitting...!

Although it's not what I normally do, scenic artistry for this production has been most enjoyable and it's something I'm very open to doing more of. Versatility seems to be a very important skill in theatre arts and it's something I definitely want to continue perpetuating; I've always struggled to pinpoint my creative energy to one particular field and theatre allows me to grow in multiple areas. Whilst I love making puppets more than anything, I love making any sort of art and also doing the 'soft skills' type of work that enables it to exist.

The novel of 'Goodnight Mister Tom' by Michelle Magorian was adapted for theatre by David Wood who very graciously visited the production and did an insightful Q&A session after our Wednesday matinee performance. It was fantastic to meet David (not to mention slyly drop him my business card) who is clearly a considered, incredibly creative and logically minded individual who continues to involve himself in children's theatre into his seventies.
Wood was very complimentary with his words after seeing our play - especially seeing as it was technically the world premiere of the first amateur production of 'Goodnight Mister Tom'. Various individuals have also been singing the praises of the cast and crew across social media, including a very favourable review from Susan Elkin, available here;
Sardines Review: Goodnight Mister Tom

Fantastic photography by Anton Belmonté.

Some of the words from our reviewers still feel like an egotistical fantasy; from Julie Petrucci Regional Representative NODA East (District Four South) "Special mention has to go to Jasmine Haskell who I understand made the "performing objects" and directed the puppetry. Ms Haskell proved a talented member of the team." - I never thought I'd receive such words about the first theatre show I've been so heavily involved with.
The feeling of having a 'theatre family' throughout this production was strong and it was honestly quite upsetting to leave everyone behind to travel back to Kent at the end of it. Louis and Sarah Ingram did a fantastic job of finding such a cast of talented individuals and I'm honoured to have been given the opportunity to work with them. This entire show has been a testament to the power of having the right attitude and being reliable, thoughtful and paying attention to detail, and I can only hope that the others I've worked with have had as positive and dynamic experience of this show as I have.

Here's to a productive new year and a future where our paths will cross, entwine and bridge between each other with all the grace, charisma and energy that this production has embodied.

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