Award-winning Mumblecrust Theatre are giving us a spooky treat this October half-term with The Tale of the Cockatrice - a monstrous adventure full of puppetry, storytelling and music for the whole family. Co-Artistic Directors and performers Anthony Burbridge and Katie Underhay are here to tell us more about the show…

Can you tell us a little about The Tale of the Cockatrice?

Anthony: The Tale of the Cockatrice is an original piece of family theatre, loosely based on a little-known legend from British Folklore. In our retelling, a young nun, Sister Mary-Ann, discovers a deadly Cockatrice - a monster who can kill any living creature with its deadly stare! 

What is a cockatrice?

Katie: A cockatrice is part snake, part cockerel and part bat. We didn’t invent the monster – it’s actually a really old mythological creature. One of the reasons we like the cockatrice so much is that it’s one of very few British mythological creatures. You might think of dragons as very English, but they actually have their roots in ancient Eastern mythologies. There aren’t many that only derive from Britain and we think that’s pretty cool.

What made you decide to create a show based on this legend?

Anthony: I read a story about a cockatrice as a child and thought it would be an interesting idea. We both liked how quirky and scary the story was and, as we delved into some of the real-life history behind the legend, we realised just how beautiful and uniquely English it was too. So we ran with it!

The Tale of the Cockatrice sounds wonderfully dark, perfect for Hallowe’en! What’s the recommended age? 

Katie: It certainly is a bit spooky! The recommended age is 4 and up, but we’ve had everyone from 3 to 70 years-old love this show. We wanted to create a show that whole families could enjoy together. To do this we put a real emphasis on 7-11 year old kids, an age range which isn’t catered to as much in touring theatre.  We decided to create something sophisticated and scary, atmospheric and meaningful, full of monsters, knights and silliness, to make it as widely enjoyable as possible and to help give Key Stage 2 kids their own niche in theatre!

There are so many wonderful puppets in the show! Did you make them yourselves?

Anthony: We did! And it certainly was a challenge, at times! Sister Mary-Ann (our beautiful nun) came together reasonably quickly. The cockatrice, however, involved almost sleepless nights of sawing, screwing, sewing, glueing, and painting! Since it's a mythological creature, the whole design was our interpretation and we had to get creative to make this monster believable. We had a lot of challenges: glowing eyes, chicken legs, snake neck and wings! Also, as we are only two puppeteers, all the puppets had to be engineered so we could operate them individually and together, as well as pick them up and put them down quickly and effectively while we told the story. All our hard work paid off in the end, we are incredibly proud of our cast of puppets, they’ve done an amazing job helping us tell our story!

In 2017 you won some awards at Brighton Fringe. Can you tell us about that experience?

Katie: Well, we’d been performing in Brighton in the last week of the festival, just before the awards ceremony, and the two of us had had a tough week. Filling the roles of actor, producer, promoter and stage manager had taken it out of us, plus our digs were a long walk from the venue! We were about done in when we received the amazing news - we’d been nominated for Best Newcomer! All our woes were immediately forgotten of course, it seemed like a dream come true! We travelled home with our set and travelled back to attend the award ceremony, full of nerves! The IYAF Best of Brighton Fringe: Children and Family Award had been announced before we'd arrived in Brighton, so we'd had a bit of time to adjust to that, but we certainly didn’t expect to win Best Newcomer, it was a genuine shock when we did! After a week of such intense work, it all just seemed totally surreal. We hadn't planned any kind of acceptance speech, so we just spouted absolute nonsense on the stage. I'm sure it was hilarious for the audience!

Do you think those awards have helped your success as a new company, and with your tour?

Anthony: Undoubtedly yes. Before May 2017 we’d had a bit of interest in the show, but not a huge amount. Afterwards we started to have a bit more interest, and then a bit more. It really helped set the ball rolling with venues, not least because we felt newly invigorated to really sell our show, to the extent we even managed to put together a national tour in 2018.

Katie, you’ve performed at Lighthouse before. Are you looking forward to coming back?

Katie: Absolutely! I performed in Three Little Pigs with Stuff and Nonsense Theatre Company last Christmas and at the time I thought what a great venue the Sherling Studio would be for The Tale of the Cockatrice. I’m really looking forward to coming back to Poole and to the Lighthouse! We feel very privileged to be performing at such a fabulous venue. 

What’s next after your tour?

Anthony: We’re actually working on a new show at the moment, in between all our tour dates! We’re creating an adaptation of HG Wells’ The Time Machine for families. It’ll have lots of puppetry, music and storytelling, just like The Tale of the Cockatrice. Hopefully we’ll be back in a year or two with our new show!


Photos: Kirsten McTernan

The Tale of the Cockatrice is at Lighthouse on Tuesday 23rd October at 2pm & 7pm.

Published 16 October 2018