Our international collaborator, writer and producer Jess Kaufman spoke to London Live about our project Mathilda and the Orange Balloon. Click here for full tour dates and booking details.
Watch the video here and read the transcript below:
[Jess] Mathilda is a little grey sheep in a little grey and green world. But her mind is full of questions. She’s constantly pestering the adult sheep asking “What is that?” “Why is that there?” “Why is the flower growing?” And one day an orange balloon makes a surprise appearance on her farm and wakes up something inside her that she didn’t even realize was there. And over the course of the story and the course of the show, Mathilda discovers that she can be anything she can imagine and that she’s not limited to the definitions of herself that other people offer her.
[Anthony] Yeah, you can see quite quickly what the real messages are within this piece.
[Anthony] And this is about making sure that young children, you know, aren’t put in positions. You know, girls can be nurses, boys can be doctors.
[Anthony] That kind of approach. Is that where the sheep ends? Her journey, does she realize, that actually, you know, life is full of options?
[Jess] Absolutely. Mathilda realizes that she can be a grey sheep. She can be an orange balloon. She can be a rocket ship or an astronaut or anything she can imagine. And she brings her entire herd and, in our play, the audience, on that journey with her.
[Anthony] The process of taking it from that book to a stage production, has that been quite difficult?
[Jess] No, not at all. My initial idea of transforming it into a stage play was met with absolute joy by the book’s author, Randall de Séve and the illustrator, Jen Corace, who’ve been very kind in securing the adaptation rights with me to create the story on stage. I approached The DH Ensemble about it a couple of years ago and they embraced the idea because it’s just perfect for their aesthetic.
[Anthony] That explains a little bit more about that theatre group because they do an awful lot of work to make sure that everyone who goes has the same experience.
[Jess] Absolutely. The DH Ensemble is a professional theatre company founded by Deaf and hearing professional artists who come together to make work that’s fully accessible to Deaf and hearing audiences. They work with a fully accessible rehearsal room and we include British Sign Language, spoken English, creative captions, projections, sound that can be felt in the body: all kinds of strategies to make the show aesthetically innovative and fully accessible to everyone who wants to see it.
[Anthony] When you’re working on a production which has to make sure that all those factors are involved, it’s added layers, isn’t it?
[Anthony] I imagine that prep slows the process down to make sure you get it spot on, perfect for everyone.
[Jess] Absolutely. We’ve been very fortunate to have partnerships with Jackson’s Lane Theatre, and with Greenwich and Lewisham Young People’s Theatre. And between them we’ve had a very generous rehearsal process of three weeks. We also did a fully funded R & D at Sheffield Theatre last year who gave us two weeks to really dig deep into the show with DH Ensemble company members Stephen Collins, Erin Hutching, and director Jennifer Bates to really make sure we got it just right.
[Anthony] Yeah we’re looking at some of the rehearsal pictures now. Who does Mathilda meet on the way? Who are the other characters?
[Jess] Ah. Well, Mathilda’s story is told for us by two narrators. You’ll see Mia and Adam here. They’re narrators. They’re clowns. They’re absolutely hilarious. And over the course of the show, as you can see in these photos, they take on the personalities of the other sheep in Mathilda’s herd.