We caught up with Jimmy Grimes, director of our brand new production Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, to ask him about puppetry, creativity and Red Riding Hood.

What can you tell us about the puppetry in Red Riding Hood and the Wolf?

We are being told a story by Robyn, an 8 year old with a creative spirit that leads her to create all the characters, locations and effects within her bedroom. What I wanted to tap into was the commitment with which children play, the way in which they explore physicality through the movement of their toys and the freedom that this might bring to us as storytellers in theatre.

So the puppets are a combination of toys, characters built out of objects on stage and a couple of more specially prepared characters. As well as a new and engaging telling of the fairy tale I hope it might also inspire our audience members to go away and make their own stories with whatever they can find at home.

“The earliest inspiration for me is… Jim Henson’s creatures in ‘Labyrinth’”

Why puppetry? 

As cliched as it sounds I often feel that, for me, performing with puppets is connected to a relationship with objects, toys and movement that began as a child. As a result I’m fascinated in the way we manipulate and play with objects as children and how that develops in complexity as we grow up and understand the world around us.

This retelling of the fairy tale has given me a chance to explore puppetry from a different angle to that which I’m usually found working in, where the focus is so often about aiming for something that looks utterly lifelike in its movement.

How have you developed the story for the stage? 
I spent some time working with the writer, Jon Barton, to develop his retelling of the story into something that would work visually on stage. This has meant reworking the script in rehearsal to fit the vision we established early on. With so much being discovered, Charlotte, our performer and puppeteer, was learning new script changes daily, as well as learning the puppetry and so many other practical elements of the show.

A big part of the process has been working through the ideas with designer Alison Alexander, composer Adam Pleeth, and lighting designer Luis Alvarez. They have enabled us to further take the concept we were exploring and make it into a reality. 

“Robyn is the kind of girl I’d like to have hung out with as a kid, she’s creative, a bit of a rule breaker and bursting with ideas.”

What was your favourite puppet from childhood? 
It’s not quite the same as a puppet in theatre, but the earliest inspiration for me is certainly Ray Harryhausen’s skeletons from ‘Jason and the Argonauts’, and Jim Henson’s creatures in ‘Labyrinth’. They tickled my eye and imagination. I was very young and it was this interest that continued through my teens with ‘Wallace and Gromit’, learning how to animate figures myself, and eventually beginning to explore the relationship between animation and live puppetry.

What stories do you remember from growing up and why? 
I wasn’t a huge reader when I was younger, but something I’ve been increasingly aware of is how as a boy I felt alien to, or perhaps not encouraged to connect to, stories that were considered ‘for girls’. It’s one reason I really wanted to have our character Robyn leading us through Red Riding Hood and the Wolf. It’s important for me to be creating a piece with a female lead that speaks beyond that dated differentiation that seems to be compounded by so many influences. Robyn is the kind of girl I’d like to have hung out with as a kid, she’s creative, a bit of a rule breaker and bursting with ideas. I hope our audiences enjoy getting to know her.

What was the first theatre show you saw and how did it make you feel? 
I have a vague memory of a terrible schools tour of what must have been ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ before I knew what Shakespeare was, and another memory of my sisters playing the snake in ‘The Jungle Book’. I certainly didn’t discover my calling from those experiences! But the thing that I feel really struck me was ‘Shockheaded Peter’ (directed by Julian Crouch and Phelim McDermott) when I was about 18. It was a real visual treat and had songs and music by the Tiger Lillies. I’m sure it had a big influence on me.

Red Riding Hood and the Wolf is a new puppetry production by Little Angel Theatre, running until 16 July 2017 
Find out more about Red Riding Hood & the Wolf, click HERE