Q and A with Paul Hunter
Q and A with Paul Hunter, Director of The Mouse and His Child.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about why you thought this book would make a good stage adaptation/family show?
A: The Mouse and His Child by Russell Hoban has cult classic status I think. It's not that well known and nor is its author but for some people I know it is their favourite book and this is partly what drew me to the project.
I like the fact that not many people know the story or characters. That way they won't have any preconceptions and will not be judging how a particular scene was done or if we have missed something out! It gives you a lot more freedom.
Also what drew me to it is the story – it is a brilliant metaphor. We get seduced by naturalism these days with movies and TV, but theatre is fundamentally about metaphor so this story is ideal for live theatre above everything else - so I will make the experience as theatrical as possible.
The story is also universal – about seeking independence, about belonging and about a sense of home or asylum – big themes!
Q: The story is an epic journey through toyshops, fields, rubbish dumps etc – that is going to be a challenge to put onto the RST stage isn't it?
A: I am always drawn to things I don't know how to do, and I am still wrestling with how to put this on stage! Birds swoop and fly and drop the mice into a frozen lake – there is a big finale involving electricity in a house!
I am still unsure how to achieve all these things but we certainly won't be cluttering the stage with lots of set. We will use revolves and probably traps and there will definitely be some aerial work but not trying to make anything invisible or less than theatrical.
The actors playing animals won't have literal animal costumes but will have elements of animal about them. The main thing is to have a cast of actors who work together as an ensemble to create the world of the show with all its magic and surprises.
Q: Will this be similar in style to the Young People's Shakespeare Comedy of Errors which you directed for the RSC recently?
A: Yes, in that we created a very strong ensemble, partly by making the actors form into a band at the start of the show which really bonded them and made them relaxed enough to constantly work and shape the show (which, although aimed initially at 9 – 11-year-olds, we wanted to make as funny and vibrant for all members of the audience!).
Mouse will be the same in that we will not be sanitizing some of the darker scenes as kids don't like to be talked down to. But it will have live music and is also very funny.
Q: As a co founder of Told By An Idiot, you are renowned for working in a pared back, very physical style – is that what you will bring to Mouse?
A: I don't like the phrase 'physical theatre' but it does get tagged onto the work I do and I suppose I do like the actors on their feet from the start of rehearsals rather than sitting reading the script.
I do work a lot through improvisation and the process of what is thrown up in rehearsals; and Tamsin (Oglesby - who has written the adaptation) will be in rehearsals doing rewrites of the script as a result of what happens in the rehearsal room which will be exciting.
Q: How faithful is the stage version to the original book?
A: It is very faithful to the spirit of the book, but like all great adaptations Tamsin has not been slavish to it as I think that is usually when things tend to go wrong. We have taken out certain things that we thought would not work on stage and maybe added things that we think enhance the live theatre experience!
Q: How would you sum up what people can expect if they come to see Mouse and His Child?
A: As I said – it's a universal story. It's poignant and profound and funny. It's absurd and exciting and magical with something for all the family. The adults in the audience definitely won't be sitting there looking at their watches waiting to get a drink in at the interval!
Personally I don't see it as a kids show – I read an interview with one of the founders of Pixar Films who was asked what his target audience was for their films and he responded 'anybody who breathes'. That is what I want for this production.
I want it to be seen by a 7 year old with their 70 year old grandparent and for both of them to enjoy it and get something out of it.