Directing ‘How to Hide a Lion’

November 18, 2016

I bought a copy of How to Hide a Lion a couple of years ago as a gift for my daughter, purely because the little girl in the story was also called Iris. Very quickly we both fell in love with the book.

She loved being read the story again and again, and we spent hours discussing Helen Stephen’s detailed illustrations. The more I read it, the more it occurred to me that it could potentially be adapted into a theatre production.

At its heart it is a beautiful story of friendship between a gentle lion and Iris, but it also had other strands that could enable a 5 minute read to be transformed into a 45 minute play. There was a strong sense of the different settings. The town square and town’s people, the domestic world of Iris’ family home, and the friendly and playful setting of Iris’ bedroom. The story was humorous and thrilling, especially with the unexpected burglary late in the story. It was also full of pathos and dramatic irony.

I felt instinctively that the production could be told through puppetry and song. Having previously worked with celebrated jazz singer Barb Jungr on a couple of puppetry musicals The Fabulous Flutterbys and We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, I invited her to spend a week with me in a rehearsal room exploring ideas. We loved the concept of a jazz-inspired musical landscape for our ‘cool cat’, who strolled into town for a hat.  As we went into rehearsals, Barb spent a week in the studio with a pianist, double-bass player, drummer and trumpet player to bring the songs to life.

In terms of puppetry, I knew that I wanted to work with a variety of scales to depict the towns folk and to portray the Lion roaming through the moonlit town. I had seen puppet designer Sam Wyer’s extraordinary creativity on The Elephantom at the National Theatre and Alice’s Adventures Underground at The Vaults, and was delighted that he joined our team. We also brought on board Polka regular Laura McEwen as set designer (Gorilla; Beauty and the Beast) and lighting designer Will Evans.

Laura was instrumental in creating the idea of a Hat Shop as the world the audience enter. This conceit allows us a portal into and out of our story. Whilst not in the original book the staff of our Hat Shop, called Hattie and Horace, become the storytellers in our production. Our actor/puppeteers Claire Eales-White and Phil Yarrow are thankfully multi-talented, simultaneously puppeteering, singing, changing set and performing as characters.

We’ve enjoyed pulling the various creative strands together in the production, and are delighted that Oxford Playhouse are our co-producers. Following its run at Polka from 26th Oct – 26th February, the production will tour to Oxford Playhouse as well as run at our favourite puppet theatre Little Angel.

We hope it’s going to be a roaring success!

How to Hide a Lion is on in the Adventure Theatre from 26 Oct – 26 Feb 2017, click here for more information and to book.