5 minutes with Peter O’Rourke | The Dong with a Luminous Nose

We spoke to The Dong with a Luminous Nose director Peter O’Rourke about the great nonsense poet Edward Lear and why he decided to transform this poem into a puppet show.

Watch the video interview or read on below.

What first drew you to this poem?

What first drew me to this poem was liking nonsense poetry. Edward Lear’s poems are from the heart and what interested me was this sort of balance between the nonsense element and the real emotional heart of the poem. I wanted to do The Dong with a Luminous Nose because I was looking for something where words, though they play an important part, were not spoken out of the character’s mouth.

Why do you think puppetry is a great form for adapting this poem?

There is a real potential in the poem for creative, new puppetry. I thought about how the Jumblies could jumble themselves up into different configurations. In a sense that was the thing for me that said yes this could be exciting puppetry. Part of the pleasure for the audience in seeing puppetry is that they’re watching something being conjured up, live in front of them. This felt like the pure version of this and the recipe for playful puppetry. I was interested in the idea of the space that gives round the puppet and operation of the puppet.

Who was Edward Lear?

Edward Lear was a really interesting character and in some ways had quite a difficult life. He was the twentieth child of twenty-one children and by the time he came along his parents weren’t interested in children so he got brought up by his sister. From a very early age he made a living as an artist and what people might not know is that he was a very talented visual artist. The nonsense poetry and the nonsense drawing that he did was not his main focus but through them, he was able to talk about the emotion and the difficulties going on in his life. So even though they’re nonsense, there’s a real heart and a real expression of yearning and loneliness.

The things that made his life difficult, given that this was Victorian England, was that he was gay, he was epileptic and had some serious health problems. Having to keep those things hidden and constantly being on the move contributed to him feeling like an outsider. He was constantly on the periphery of very rich people who he needed to be his patrons but he never felt like he was one of them.

What aspects of Edward Lear will we see in this production?

You see some odd illustrations with his limericks where you see people balancing on their heels with their arms flung out and balancing on chairs in impossible positions.

There is a language of movement. All of this is sort of feeding into our production as we’re trying to hit some of the poses in the drawings and incorporating a chair as a character. Victorian Nonsense Poetry has a very strong identity and it is part of a much longer tradition. The tradition has to do with having an absurd, playful look on life and exploring the mind through non-naturalistic vocabularies. Hopefully, this piece will be surprising and innovative while being connected to that absurd, playful tradition.

What do you hope the audiences take away from The Dong with a Luminous Nose?

“The Dong with a Luminous Nose” has a kind of darker element. It is still playful and fun with a dark undertone. What I hope audiences get out of this production is much of the playfulness and absurdity visually but to feel the emotional through-line.

The Dong with a Luminous Nose is on at Little Angel Theatre from Sat 14 September – Sun 10 November.