Looking for an opportunity to ‘let your hair down’ as a family this Easter? We caught up with Immersion Theatre director James Tobias ahead of Swindon Arts Centre shows this April for a chat about musical fairy tales, Tangled audiences and links to the US sit-com, Friends…
Thanks for your time, James. First of all, tell us a little about how you got started on this production…
My absolute pleasure! I have had a tremendous passion for family theatre ever since I can remember and have always found myself drawn to the prospect of creating productions for a younger audience. For many children, our productions will be their first experience of live theatre, a responsibility I take very seriously. This experience will often determine whether or not they want to return to the theatre, so it is of the utmost importance to us that our shows are engaging, colourful and of a genuinely high standard. Equally, we are relying on the adults to bring them in the first place, so it is crucial that our production are as appealing and enjoyable for them as well. As such, choosing a title which excites audiences of all ages is key for us. When we were searching for a title to follow up last Spring’s very successful tour of “Wind in the Willows”, we came across “Rapunzel” and were delighted to find it had everything we were searching for; familiarity for children in the form of a tale made popular by “Tangled” and a witty script written by the creators of “Friends” for the adults amongst other things. We applied for the rights, secured them and the rest, as they say, is history!
What has it been like to direct a production with names like “Friends” creators David Crane & Marta Kauffman attached?
We are very grateful that they have entrusted us to produce the UK Premiere of their show. I feel privileged to be able to say that I have directed a production penned by David and Marta, however, that’s more of a personal thing. The important thing to remember is that although they have written this charming show, it is a musical fairy tale based on “Rapunzel” first and foremost. The script has its quirks which makes it an exciting, funny and colourful adaptation – an ill mannered inn keeper and a deceptive man with a mop is all I’ll say for now! – however, my sole objective as a director has been to create a show that captures the imagination and entertains children and adults alike. With such a colourful set and costumes, witty script, catchy music and audience interaction, I would hope our audiences feel we have achieved this. Audience feedback and reviews have been incredibly positive so we hope they feel we’ve done it justice.
And also Michael Skloff, who wrote the theme to Friends, has composed the music…
It is absolutely wonderful! If anything, the music has a tendency to remain in your head for days after the show! I like to think of it as a fantastic blend of Disney and child-friendly Sondheim.
As you say, many of us will be familiar with the story of Rapunzel. What makes this show different?
There are a number of things! We’ve taken somewhat of a pantomimic approach to a show which not only gives the characters a refreshing depth, but shows them in a unique and original light. There is humour for audiences of all ages, call and response making this a wonderful halfway point for younger audiences between theatre and pantomime, and some hilarious scenarios unique to this script to name just a few things. The main aspect that makes this show different, however, is the sheer energy and enthusiasm of everyone involved in making this a first rate theatrical experience for children beyond simply asking actors to dress up in bright costumes and pull silly faces. We believe young audiences deserve a higher level of theatre/attention to detail and so are proud to be able to present them with a critically-acclaimed touring production which concludes with them having the opportunity to meet the cast and have their photos taken with them, thus hopefully, making this a truly memorable experience rather than simply a trip to the theatre.
Walk us through the key characters. Do you have any favourites?
There are 4 key characters in this adaptation: Rapunzel, the Witch, the Prince and the storyteller-come valet-come innkeeper-come many other characters! As a director, I can’t reveal which one my favourite is, however, I can assure you that all these larger-than-life characters have been consistently described as audience favourites. Why not come along and see for yourself and make up your own mind as whatever your age, there will be something here for you to enjoy!
How and when did Immersion Theatre get started?
Immersion Theatre was founded by myself and my producing partner, Rochelle Parry, back in 2010. Our initial creations saw Immersion produce work in a variety of Off-West End venues where our distinctive concepts and fearless re-workings of predominantly classic texts quickly earned us a reputation as one of London’s most exciting and innovative theatre companies. By 2013 we had solidified our standing on the London circuit as an ambitious and stylistically innovative company. Our aim, however, had always been to expand and take our work further afield, and so began preparations for our first UK Tour. Two tours in, we felt we were in the position to begin focusing on an area we’d had an overwhelming desire to produce since Immersion’s formation: family theatre; after all, we’d had years of experience successfully doing so – and indeed, performing in and directing – for external companies. Our first family show was a critically-acclaimed, 28 venue sell-out tour…we’ve never looked back. We love what we do. Our passion lies firmly with creating colourful, high energy, larger-than-life adaptations of classic tales which can be enjoyed by audiences of all ages, all the while introducing many young theatregoers to these stories, or indeed the theatre itself, for the very first time. We are proud to have expanded and to now be producing outdoor family theatre as well as pantomime alongside our family shows. Our aim is to continue building on our reputation and to become the undisputed industry leaders of family theatre.
Immersion Theatre bring ‘Rapunzel’ to the Swindon Arts Centre on Fri 8 April, with performances at 1.30 and 4.30pm. For more information on the show check out the Swindon Theatres website.
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