Growing up, Kneehigh played a huge part in my theatrical identity. When the Asylum came to life, I became a volunteer, I revelled in feeling a part of the magic night after night. Working in the Box Office, I could engage with the people who came to see these shows and hear how they too loved the magic of theatre and the uniqueness that is Kneehigh. Now I’ve had the chance to be a part of helping to make a show that would be a part of the Asylum 2019 season; The Illustrated Girl.
We had a huge project ahead of us, a promenade piece intertwined with storytelling and music performed by a huge cast of 20 actors. Three stories, written by Simon Harvey, Carl Grose and Anna Murphy. A fictional false utopia that rejected outsiders and fostered a state of fear. A stranger washed up on the shore. Their stories mysteriously etched upon her skin. The Illustrated Girl veered between moments of genuine fear, hilarious love stories and hints of the darkening cloud that is our current political situation.
We had two weeks to create this piece. Had we bitten off more than we could chew?
Overall, this project was exhilarating, evocative, exhausting,. As the Assistant Director, I learnt a lot about not only what it takes to create a promenade piece involving 20 actors, but also got a better understanding of the Kneehigh process. Nothing is set in stone, not even during the run of the shows. Reshaping and reworking scenes keeps you on your toes. The chorus is key. They lead the emotions, react to the moments. In many Kneehigh shows that I have seen, it has been a similar case. It felt important to give these young actors the experience of working in the style of Kneehigh. Who knows what they will go on to do but it feels significant that they know their Cornish theatre roots.
Our team of actors comprised of a blend of young people predominantly from Cornwall College St Austell and Hall for Cornwall’s Youth Theatre. Working with young people is something that I am no stranger to, for me it is one of the best parts of working in this tough creative industry. Watching people at the beginning of their journey with theatre, the passion and drive they have is remarkable. It is a true privilege to be a part of that, however small. Our cast took whatever we threw at them, whether it be a soaring harmony from Dom Coyote, a dance from Dirty Dancing from Helen Tiplady or a last minute change (even as last minute as 3 hours before the first show!) from our director Simon Harvey, or just a volleyball in warm-ups.
It wasn’t without its stresses and it wasn’t straightforward but there was the glimmer of something great starting to emerge. I laughed more in those two weeks that I had done all summer. Whether it was the hyped up Matty T rap from The Mermaid of Crinnis, the trio of Cornish Maids in Beautiful Corpse, the hilarious comedic timing of New Kernow Councillor Tommy Crimp (Owner of Crimp’s Pasties, microwave for best result!), laughter was a key part of the process. Whereas the third story Dark Riders sent chills up my spine whenever I watched the story play out. It is truly something watching a group of people who don’t all know each other come together in a short amount of time and become a chorus. A company.
Speaking of choruses, it is just over a week since the last show and I am still humming all the songs. Dom Coyote’s arrangements are simply brilliant, and the songs are very memorable (“E’s perfect, cus e’s handsome an’ e’s dead” will be with me for a long time!).
To get to be a part of The Illustrated Girl was brilliant. My personal highlights include covering for 6 people being away during a rehearsal run-through, crawling under the stage holding the smoke machine ready for the final moment (which didn’t always pay off and sometimes just flooded the entire backstage area instead!).
But my real highlight was working with the Illustrated Team and Cast. Working with the creative team gave me a chance to work with people that I have looked up to for a long time and learn their processes. Working with the cast was just great fun. A funny, talented, inspirational bunch who made this show what it was. Superb.
On our last day, just before the final show, I led the vocal warm up which included singing a round:
Hey Ho, anybody home?
Meat nor drink nor money have I none
Yet I will be merry anyhow
We started singing it apart, we walked around the space, we came together. We sang. We hugged.
A Front of House volunteer told me that an audience member came up to her and asked if there was a choir using the space before the show. No came the reply, that’s the actors warming up. The audience member couldn’t believe that this group of young actors could make such beautiful music.
That was just the warm-up. The rest of the show was yet to cast a spell over them…