A fantastical, inspirational reading of the classic fable, developed and co-written with school children, The Three Little Pigs has been created by the ever-inventive Stuff and Nonsense Theatre Company and co-commissioned by Lighthouse (and Theatre Royal Plymouth) as this year's studio Christmas show.
Using ideas from Year Six pupils at Oakdale School in Poole, St Mary’s in Bridport and Woodlands School in Plymouth, the show is aimed at all ages – from three up to grandparents – and blends live action, physical theatre, puppets, songs and storytelling to reimagine the story for a modern world.
“The whole process has been really brilliant for all of us – I think we’ve learned loads,” says Niki McCretton, Artistic Director of Stuff and Nonsense.
“We wanted this to be a much deeper way of working with young people, to experiment with how far we can bring children into the creation of a work. It has been a two-year process, but it has been absolutely brilliant; really hard work, but brilliant.”
Sent out into the world to fend for themselves, the three little pigs trick the hungry lone wolf onto a bus then turn to the audience for help to build a shelter as they try to outwit and outsmart their scary pursuer.
The story grew out of discussions with an original group of 90 pupils from the three partner schools.
“We took the original stanza from a very old version of the story that said once there was an old sow who didn’t have enough food to look after her piglets so she sent them out into the world to fend for themselves. The children did not believe that to be true. They said there has to be another reason and some wanted her to have kicked them out because she’s got a new boyfriend or because she thought the children were annoying.
“They also said it’s not always you have to look after the littlest one because the littlest one isn’t always the most vulnerable; and spoke about the tension around being kicked out being a really exciting thing and something really scary. Those ideas are in there, that’s the narrative of the show.”
It’s clear the final group of nine pupils, three from each school, were equals in the creation process with their grown up professional partners.
“Very much so,” says Niki. “This wasn’t about occupying the children, they were contributing to the script, composing the songs and showing the actors what they wanted.
“We all had to be 100 per cent open to ideas. Some of the loveliest moments were seeing a child eye to eye with a performer totally as equals and both then being directed by me asking what were the things they liked and what excited them so we could get those elements down and run the scene again.
“One boy said at school when you put your hand up to answer a question there’s usually a right and a wrong answer and that can be really demoralising, whereas with our work there isn’t a wrong answer, there are just ideas that might work for now or be better for later.”
Devising and script sessions took place at Lighthouse, at Theatre Royal Plymouth and at Stuff and Nonsense’s home venue, The Lyric in Bridport. The team also spent a week at the National Theatre in London as part of its studio-based Generate programme.
“That was an incredible opportunity for all of us, but especially the children. Some of them had not been to London before and some had not been to a theatre before – now they’ve been to four and we’ve not even opened yet!
“More than that they’ve been to theatres not as visitors for a look-round, but to work. So they’ve met and worked with a composer and a sound designer, they’ve met and worked with a puppet maker, the actors, and Anna Murphy, our writer on the project. Not all of them are doing well at school academically, but they’ve seen they could get jobs in a theatre for sure.
“We enjoyed incredible support from our commissioning partners on this project. Lighthouse helped broker that relationship with the National and was key in helping those Oakdale children to come and be in the room with us. Theatre Royal Plymouth facilitated us to work with Woodlands School and enabled three children with disabilities to work with us at their creation space TR2.”
“Without those partnerships The Three Little Pigs project would not have been anywhere near as deep and I’d love to continue a relationship with the children – it feels really fruitful, I’m sure there’s another layer to this.”
The Dorset-based pupils will see The Three Little Pigs for the first time at Lighthouse this Christmas, while those in Plymouth will catch it at Easter. For Niki, first night nerves will be nothing compared to those felt knowing her young collaborators are in the audience.
“Oh I’ll be incredibly nervous for them to see it because they are so critical. They are amazing, but I didn’t realise how discerning and insightful they would be. This has the Stuff and Nonsense style, but it feels like a different piece of work and that’s really good. That’s largely down to the children.”
:: The Three Little Pigs opens in the Sherling Studio at Lighthouse on Tuesday 5 December and runs until Christmas Eve. Tickets available now at https://www.lighthousepoole.co.uk/.