We caught up with Jon Barton, writer of our brand new production Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, to ask him about what inspires him as a writer.
Little Angel Theatre: What was your favourite puppet from childhood?
Jon Barton: My favourite was Sweep from The Sooty Show. Sweep was a perpetually hapless dog who squeaks when he talked, but he always had an opinion, and always had something to say!
LAT: What was your favourite bedtime story and why?
JB: Roald Dahl’s Treasury were big hits in my house. The favourites were Revolting Rhymes and Fantastic Mr Fox. I loved that his writing could take you anywhere, there was an enthusiasm for imagination in those stories. Anything was possible. Danny The Champion of the World remains one of my favourite ever books, and I also love his adult writing. Tales of the Unexpected does exactly what it says on the tin. I also loved Dodos are Forever by Dick King Smith, Fox’s Feud by Colin Dann and The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark by Jill Tomlinson.
children make fresh discoveries every day… and the energy of that is infectious!
LAT: What was the first theatre show you saw and how did it make you feel?
JB: I didn’t go to the theatre until I was older. One of the first things I saw was DV8’s The Cost of Living, which was a physical theatre piece about two street performers. I loved it’s energy, it’s stage imagery, how it told a story through movement and articulation of bodies in time and space. This is something I return to often, thinking about what makes a story theatrical.
LAT: What inspires you?
JB: My influences always tend to combine characters and genre. Jim Henson has always loomed large; his ability to give life to inanimate objects, like brooms and washing machines. I gorged on Gerry Anderson’s Supermarionation (Thunderbirds, Stingray, Captain Scarlett). Those marionettes felt primitive but the characters were compelling. It is a constant reminder that story comes from character, and that the gesture of a puppet is to facilitate a character’s life. Ray Harryhausen was a master of this. Nick Park, Stan Winston, and Rick Baker all inspire my in different ways, whether it be working with plasticine, stop motion, or creature effects; but in the end I have to care about the characters. Tennessee Williams was a master of empathy.
LAT: What do you love about writing for children’s theatre?
Young audiences are the best and worst critics. If they don’t like something you know about it! It forces you to think about engaging the imagination. But if the audience enjoys a piece of theatre, they meet you halfway with their own imaginative sense of the world and they do it readily, sometimes without consciousness. I can’t approach writing for children, to then shift gears for adults. The distinction is children make fresh discoveries every day. They’re not approaching work from a fixed position and the energy of that is infectious! It’s what we’re trying to tap into with this production.
Because Red Riding Hood is synonymous with childhood, the question became, how do you stay faithful to the parable, but give it a mischievous spin?
LAT: What did you want to be when you were growing up?
JB: Everything! A vet, an animator, a cartoonist. For some reason I wanted to be a tree surgeon for a while. Then a detective. And Superman, for obvious reasons.
LAT: Where did you take your inspiration from for this version of Red Riding Hood & The Wolf?
JB: Roald Dahl has a knack for exploring What If questions. What If there was a giant peach, or witches were real and had no toes, or a giant blew dreams through your window? Because Red Riding Hood is synonymous with childhood, the question became, how do you stay faithful to the parable, but give it a mischievous spin? How do you make something expected unexpected? I’m inspired by stories with rascally heroes. The Roly-Poly Bird in The Twits springs to mind, and the Wolf has always been a rascal to me. Perspective plays a major part in writing for children if there’s a universal problem to tangle with; and it is fundamental to the puppetry element at the heart of this show. So I was also inspired by theatre shows that play with perspective in puppetry. Light Theatre’s The Magic Beanstalk did this brilliantly in which the puppeteers became both giant and accomplice. I’m drawn to the unexpected in any theatre I see, but ultimately I was inspired to create a version I think I’d love to have seen when I was younger.
Red Riding Hood and the Wolf is a new puppetry production by Little Angel Theatre, running 27 April – 16 July 2017
Find out more about Red Riding Hood & the Wolf, click HERE