1. Tell us about this new show and your own involvement and role in it?
It’s called Mole & Gecko: THE SHOW. It’s an interactive rap musical for children and families about a Mole and a Gecko who make a show (as well as being about a mole and a gecko who go on an adventure quest in a nameless boat with a downcast duck). I wrote it in collaboration with singer songwriter extraordinaire Gecko, and we perform the piece together too. At one point, I get to do a double time rap as a gangster weasel who sells bourbon biscuits, which is definitely a long-term life goal ticked off.
The level of audience interaction in this show means it’s the first time I’ve come close to achieving on stage the same buzz that sometimes builds in a poetry writing workshop with young people. It’s the moment in that shared creative process when they realise they are already poets and can say whatever ridiculous genius thought pops into their heads, and it will be heard, valued and quite possibly sung or rapped or shouted as part of an actual proper thing. It is really how Gecko and I worked ourselves when writing the show, having a huge amount of fun. Now it is an actual proper thing and we’re heading out on tour to carry on writing it with audiences every time we perform it!
2. How has the devising process worked for this show?
To begin with we weren’t sure if we were writing songs for an album or a show, so the whole thing has evolved very organically. What we have now is a show and also an album with our favourite songs from it – win win! Writing with Gecko has been so much fun. It has really reminded me how much I love making music with other people. I used to be the rapper in a ten-piece live band, so it’s been a case of dusting off the cobwebs and getting in the booth to record again!
The audience plays such a creatively important role in the show every time we perform it, some of the most important (and fun) parts of our process have involved collaborating with groups of young people.
We worked with an awesome school near me in Maidenhead (shout out to year 5 at Wessex Primary!) to test some of the rough versions of the songs, and a number of the most interactive sections from the show. The ideas and feedback from the children led to a number of shifts and adjustments that I believe hugely improved the show as a whole.
We also did an early run of the show at the Roundhouse in London for a Year 5 class from Salusbury Primary School, to develop how the songs and scenes fit together.
This is the fourth full-length show I’ve made in collaboration with director Peader Kirk. A core part of our approach is to ensure the story arc of a show feels absolutely right. In the past that this has very much centred on approaches designed for script-writers like The Hero’s Journey by Joseph Campbell and Blake Snyder’s ‘beat structures’. This time was slightly different however, as once we’d done that we also looked at how picture books are structured, in order to distil what we felt was the essence of the story and its message. My first picture book is being published by Quarto this summer and my editor there, Katie Cotton, was kind enough to come along to an early sharing of Mole & Gecko to give us some input on that particular area.
3. Do you have a favourite scene or line in the show?
I very much enjoy playing the evil weasel with a biscuit problem, especially since I’ve been wearing the costume that the brilliant Amanda Mascarenhas made for us.
I absolutely love rapping some of the lines in the songs. Off the top of my head, a favourite is when I’m trying to encourage Gecko to find a big cow poo and poke it with a stick.
4. What would you say is the main take-home message of the show?
Thematically I think we open space for children to think about friendship; by presenting two central characters who are animals of different species with different cultures and experiences of the world, we show that understanding and enjoying our differences is an important part of getting to know each other. Good friendships help people (or animals!) to grow and change, but also allow them to be accepted for who they truly are.
One major take-home message of the show comes in how interactive it is; we want children (and grown-ups) to go home knowing that poetry can be fun – it’s not just something you do because you have to at school, it’s around us every day in songs, books, comics, and the funny anecdotes we tell each other. Hopefully people will realise we all have a poet inside us, and that bringing that side of us out to play is good fun!
This message is something I look to put across in all of my work. Over the last two years I have developed a poetry channel on YouTube, making interactive tutorial videos with a range of fun writing prompts and exercises that demonstrate to children (and adults!) that they can easily and enjoyably write poetry themselves.
5. The show features plenty of audience interaction. Does that make the show tricky to rehearse without them? Without revealing any spoilers, what kind of thing are you hoping they will join in with?
If you come to the show, to begin with you might only be contributing the odd word or two when Gecko and I need a bit of help, but before long you’ll be creating entire songs and deciding what our characters should do at the key moments which determine the final outcome of the show.
Our director Peader Kirk is brilliant at improvising a range of potential suggestions that could possibly come from an audience of 5-11 year olds, but really there is no substitute for testing material with groups of children. A big thank you to Wessex Primary and Salusbury Primary for their help!
6. What’s your favourite river? Have you made any memorable river trips?
Big fan of the Thames, having lived near it for years in both London and now Maidenhead.
7. The show features a weasel with a serious biscuit problem! What’s your favourite biscuit?
Number one: Bourbon. Number two: Bourbon. Number three: Bourbon.
8. Do you have any interesting connections to the venues that the show is touring to?
Norden Farm in Maidenhead is just around the corner from my house, so I’m particularly looking forward to that one. With my two kids, I took part in their lantern parade in December and absolutely loved it. As well as some great shows to see, they have a lot of opportunities to get involved – a really great example of how an arts centre can connect and inspire its community. Hopefully some of the children I’ve worked with in local schools will come along and let me know what they think of the show.
The Albany in Deptford will always be close to my heart – I lived round the corner for a good few years, and have spent many many hours writing, rehearsing, performing and hanging out in the building. As an associate artist there for a number of years I’ve had the pleasure of working with many of their resident companies, including as a lead artist on the award winning all-day arts club for isolated older people ‘Meet me at the Albany’.