Meet the Clapham duo behind a unique theatre company, Ga Ga Theatre, as they prepare the first ever stage or ‘cine-theatre’ adaptation of Mrs Armitage and the Big Wave, a tale by Quentin Blake – surfing its way across London this month…
Words: Madeleine Howell
When I ask Rachael Richards what makes theatre such a wonderful and important experience for children and adults alike, she quotes Lyn Gardner: ‘Theatre fires the imagination. It gives our children the skills and the creativity necessary to face the world, to understand it, and perhaps to change it too.’
For Richards’ university friend Katie Russell, who co-founded Ga Ga Theatre with her, it can also be simply about seeing a story come to life, laughing at the funny moments together, and sneaking a cuddle during the exciting bits.
It’s a philosophy that has fed into the success of their innovative ‘cine-theatre’ productions so far, which are supported by Orbis Access, BMW Park Lane and the Arts Council. Their first show, Up and Down (based on the book by Oliver Jeffers) received fantastic reviews after touring six Picturehouses in 2013. This October, they’re back with their second tour – this time, with an innovative take on Quentin Blake’s picture book, Mrs Armitage and the Big Wave.
Adapted by award-winning director Adam Barnard, the show will be making an appearance at the stunning Elgar Room at The Royal Albert Hall and The Tabernacle in Notting Hill, as well as the Ritzy and Clapham Picturehouses.
The pair started out with the idea that independent cinemas would make the perfect setting for a new kind of informal, stress-free family theatre. ‘We had a “lightbulb” moment, and realised that we could incorporate the cinema screen into a live theatre performance using AV projections and lighting,’ explains Richards. It’s a winning combination of modern technology and the more traditional elements of theatre, such as props, staging, actors and audience participation.
The method lends itself perfectly to Quentin Blake’s illustrations, which will be brought to life and integrated into the performance – ensuring that the production stays true to the book. ‘The images are simply iconic. There’s something nostalgic about his sketches,’ she explains.
‘In Mrs Armitage, he re-imagines England with a Monty Python-esque sense of energy and humour. The beach setting allows for a lot of fun with staging and props. Our set and costume designer Verity Quinn has been busy sourcing an inflatable desert island and a few other surprises, which will make sense when you see the show! I can’t wait to see the children’s faces and hear the first waves of laughter.’
While the core age range is four to eight-year-olds, the production is layered with enough levels of story and humour to keep older and younger audience members engaged too. ‘I think children’s imaginations can be underestimated,’ laughs Richards. ‘Children know when they’re being patronised. For me, the very best theatre is when the parents are as entertained as the children, and you all come away equally inspired and energised by the show. We want to create professional, high-quality theatre, while not taking ourselves too seriously.’
It’s a welcome addition to the area’s cultural scene, which includes the Battersea Arts Centre and the New Wimbledon Theatre. We say the pair are set to inspire the next generation of SW theatre-goers (under 2s attend free) – who are sure to be going ga ga for it.
Touring 5-30 October 2016 across London. To book see gagatheatre.co.uk