By Kira Taylor @kirataylor15
For me, The Boy Who Climbed Into The Moon was one of the highlights of the exetreme imagination festival. The heart-warming story, full of adventure and limitless imagination was the perfect excuse to relive childhood’s boundless excitement.
Walking into the theatre, I was very aware that I was the oldest person there, barring the parents, dragged along by their very excited children. It was only the second time I had been in a theatre by myself and I was very nervous.
As soon as the play started, my nerves drained away. I enjoyed it as much as the children – maybe a little more …
The play was an adaptation of David Almond’s children’s book about a boy named Paul, who one day decides he wants to touch the sky. On the highest floor of his tower block, he meets Mable, who might be called Molly, and they embark on a wonderful adventure. With a lot of help from the community, Paul climbs a wobbling ladder up into the sky to see if the Moon is simply a hole in the sky.
Theatre Alibi brought the story to life with a perfect contrast of bizarre moments (flying, talking dogs, for instance) and beautiful moments, which really reminded you of the good in humanity.
Although Theatre Alibi often create productions from original scripts dreamt up by their Associate Writer, Daniel Jamieson, they decided to go with a well-known book.
“It’s something familiar – plus they are great stories full of drama and imagination,” said Ruth Weyman, the Executive Producer of Theatre Alibi. “Dan and Nikki (our Artistic Director) went and read lots of books that were aimed at the right age group (5 – 11s) and really fell in love with David’s story … They were drawn to the idea that anything is possible, and also that the characters in the story are very supportive of each other. There’s a lot of love there.”
The production grew from a first draft, that included as much action as possible and was followed by some testing of props – attempting to work out the scale (the moon is very big!). Lots of different instruments were experimented with to underpin the emotions of the play. Finally, an accordion was chosen, inspired by the folk music of Northumberland, where David Almond is from.
The music gave the performance an extra layer. As Paul was running up the stairs, it was an excited jig, that made you feel as though you were panting up the stairs with him (although I wasn’t because I’m not fit enough to run up any set of stairs, any time soon).
All of the hard work came together brilliantly and Paul’s journey was laid out before us. He bounces up the stairs of his tower block, wanting to touch the sky. Exhausted, he reaches the very highest floor and sneaks his hand out of the window.
That was very poignant for me. There’s nothing like putting your hand out of a window and feeling the air brush your skin, like it’s shaking your hand, still slightly damp with water vapour. Maybe I’m the only person who’s ever done that, but watching Paul reach out into the wide expanse of the sky, I felt that sensation of cold air brushing through fingers again.
“My favourite bit is when Paul puts his hands out of the window, and his imaginative description of what the sky feels like,” said Jordan, who played Mabel and Fortuna.
The whole play was very emotive, exploring themes such as family, war and loss. There were some very sincere moments amongst the laughter that stuck with me, as I left the theatre. The emotions were relatable to like with Benjamin, who lives with his head in a bag as he is too scared to come out. I think we all have days when we want to walk around with our head in a bag, but adventurous little Paul, with his dream of reaching the Moon encourages him to be brave.
The production focussed on helping each other, from Paul helping Benjamin to come out of his garden to the whole tower block lift the ladder up the side of the building for Paul to use to reach the moon.
“I think my favourite bit of the show is the sequence from ‘Friends and Neighbours’ up to us lifting the ladder and the lights going on. The set looks so beautiful in that moment and it always has such a lovely reaction from the crowd,” said Sian, who played Paul and his mother.
There’s an amazing moment when Benjamin suddenly realises he couldn’t be happier and starts dancing around. We all spend so much time focussing on all of the bad things, that sometimes it’s good to see someone just dance around like that.
One of the things that made this event stand out so boldly was the extraordinary set, full of colours and shapes, pieced together to form a city skyline. It was very small, so the idea of the city-scape opening up to reveal the Moon was perfect.
“Scale is a key image – Paul is physically small in relation to the others and is often, from a perspective low to the ground, looking up above him,” said Ruth.
During the creative process, it was quickly decided that Paul would be played by a puppet. I have worked with a lot of puppets (I know it’s a weird thing to have done as a child), but only ever from behind a rather shaky screen made from drainpipe and curtain. It always seemed quite claustrophobic and shut out the audience. As a puppeteer, you couldn’t see the audience without peeping through gaps in the curtain.
So, the idea of the puppet being brought into the foreground really intrigued me. I’m afraid I think of myself as a bit of a puppet connoisseur (I’ve been to one class!) and the interaction between human and puppet was heart-warming. It made Paul real.
From my puppetry days, I know how hard it is to work a puppet. They have to be constantly kept moving, even if the spotlight isn’t on them. Not only this, but you can never show the workings of the puppet to the audience, so everything had to be properly placed and planned.
“You don’t often see the protagonist in a play like this played by a puppet. So, that’s a lot of movement to choreograph,” said Ruth.
It gave a sense of scale between the children and the adults. It also meant that the children, Paul and Fortuna, had a creative edge that the adults didn’t have. They could literally do anything.
The production didn’t come without its challenges. Three people, three puppets and a musician meant that some of the book’s characters had to be left out. The play had to be around an hour long in order to keep the audience’s interest. But it all came together to create a magical story that I’ll never forget.
Theatre Alibi are hoping to tour The Boy Who Climbed Into the Moon in the spring of 2018, taking it to larger theatres across the UK. By Christmas, over 13,000 children will have seen the show in their school.
Founded by graduates of the Exeter University Drama course, Theatre Alibi has been in Exeter for over 30 years, creating plays for children and adults. Their next production Fish Eye, by Daniel Jamieson, will be at the Bike Shed Theatre in Exeter in February 2017.