London Student’s Anthony Walker-Cook exchanges questions with Barb Jung, acclaimed jazz and cabaret artist. The two discuss Polka Theatre’s How to Hide a Lion, a new children’s show that utilises puppets to tell a charming story of friendship.
Why did you decide to have a jazz score accompany said puppets?
The first time we worked in rehearsal with the very first research session I thought this lion is a very cool cat. He is coming to town to buy a hat. This is a jazz lion. And as soon as that thought came I knew he had to have a jazz theme. I like my characters to have themes. The townspeople are all a little more old fashioned musically because they are in the market town and they aren’t cool like the Lion so I gave them a kind of semi Gilbert and Sullivan musical vibe. And Iris is cool so she gets some lovely songs. In order to make a score like this work I take it into a studio and everything is played and I invited the best jazz musicians to come and play, which means that the whole music swings all the time. It’s gorgeous seeing children want to dance and adults tap their feet.
What more should be done to get younger audiences interested in theatre?
Well I am very lucky to work with the theatres in London who make top level work for young people and they do attract audiences of the young, who are the theatre and art lovers of the future. The touring companies like Pigtails, who constantly aim to bring this quality of work across the country are a massive part of that, too. But of course, if there were more funding for schools, more funding for new young theatre companies to go into rural areas, it doesn’t all come down to funding but it’s a huge part of the picture.
If you had to describe the tone of How to Hide a Lion in one word what would it be?
If How to Hide a Lion is trying to pose one question to the audience, what is it? And what is the answer?
How important is it to have a friend, a personal friend, with whom you can share your heart?
What was the best thing you saw in the past year on the stage?
That’s very hard because there have been some wonderful performances. I loved Vincent River at The Park, moving and dark, 42nd Street in the West End for the sheer pizzazz of it all, the Flamenco Festival gala performance at Sadler’s Wells for the music and passion, Ninegawa’s breathtakingly physical Macbeth at the Barbican…… This list could be endless…..
Is there anything you wish you had seen ever? (The ‘who would you invite from history to a dinner party’ version for theatre).
Oh I so wish I could have seen Maria Callas sing live. And Otis Redding. And Mahalia Jackson. And now of course, Aretha because I never saw her live and friends who did are cherishing that.
What are the challenges of adapting a children’s book for the stage?
A book is a short experience, you can often read a children’s book in 10 minutes, looking at the pictures and turning the pages. A piece of theatre for children is likely to be about 45 minutes long. So there’s a process which involves teasing out the themes of the book and then expanding them in a theatrical way, with music and puppetry it’s possible to open that internal world right up.
What other children’s stories would you like to see adapted?
I’m loving that people are looking at older children now and there are so many new writers exploring themes that in the past might have been considered unsuitable for younger people, but theatre can do so much to share awareness and open discussion, and that’s a wonderful thing.
As the school holidays come to an end and children go back to school, I was wondering if you’d be willing to share your fondest childhood memory?
On a Saturday morning my dad would put me up on his shoulders – he was tall – and we would walk into Rochdale, where I was born, and go to the market. I would get a small present and clutch it in my hands to show to my mum when we came back home, and I was tall as a giant up there and we walked back, and I could see the canal and the factories as we came towards our little street.
What would you like children to come away from this production of How to Hide a Lion to have learnt from watching the show? And what themes might parents be able to pick up from the show also?
I hope that the children will have fun watching it, that they’ll be excited at the way the lion triumphs and learn that you can have disappointments – which both Iris and the lion suffer and come through the other side to the sunshine again. For parents there’s friendship and what we learn from being friends with people who may not be exactly like us. Iris’s best friend is this extraordinary lion. Who knows where a friend might appear?
London Student wishes to thank Barb for taking the time to respond to our questions and to Suzie Jacobs of Chloe Nelkin PR for organising. How to Hide a Lion will be at the New Wimbledon Theatre before embarking on a UK tour between the 8th September and the 18th November, 2018.