I shouldn’t have to tell you that this year marks the centennial of the start of the First World War. The well-recorded and tragic involvement of many men from New Zealand means that we are sure to see, over the next four years, many retellings and reinterpretations of this ‘Great War’ across all media in our country.
It’s a little surprising that one of the first works about it to see the light of day is a children’s theatre production, a show by Capital E — the National Theatre for Children — titled An Awfully Big Adventure. So I had a chat with Stephen Blackburn, the creative producer at Capital E, to talk about how they’re making a show for younger audiences about such a heavy subject.
The creative team soon realised that the most important thing to express to their audience was how different the expectations placed on people a hundred years ago were compared to today. “There’s not that sense of responsibility around honour, around duty,” says Stephen. “A sense of duty and trying to, without being heavy-handed, trying to explain that different context to them without being judgemental.”
This different social context will be explored through two interweaving storylines. “There are two key stories within it. One is a volunteer. That’s the big OE, the big adventure, as many of those young men thought it would be. And the other key story that’s laced through the work is of a conscientious objector.”
Finding the right style in which to present the work was an early challenge. “The worst thing we could do is try and re-create it and say here we are in 1914,” Stephen says. “We realised that it’s better to be on the same journey as the audience.
“The concept is that the actors have arrived at the theatre, they’ve thrown everything out the back of the truck and they use that stuff to tell us what they know about World War I. And some of it is completely wrong. And one of them will go, ‘Hold on, I’m sure that’s not right. No, actually it’s this…’”
The show has already found success in test showings. Stephen explains: “A teacher came up to me after one of our showings and said ‘I could spend months trying to teach that and in ten minutes you’ve presented something where my students totally actually understand what was going on now.’” It looks like it should be an enlightening experience for an audience of any age.[info]
Starring Brynley Stent, Chris Swney, Andrew Patterson and Barney Olson, and directed by Leo Gene Peters, An Awfully Big Adventure plays at the Hannah Playhouse (formerly Downstage) this month before heading out on a national tour. Find out more at capitale.org.nz
An Awfully Big Adventure is proudly supported by FishHead[/info]