Dame For A Laugh - The Aardvark is Under-represented

After a successful run at Fairfield Halls, Croydon earlier this year, south-London based production company Dame for a Laugh bring their brand new children's musical Nana and Nunu - The Big Sneeze!  to the Buxton Fringe.

We took some time out to meet the show’s creators  Simon Sladen and Helen Friel. They spoke to us about this new show, including where they got the inspiration for a certain sneezing aardvark…

So give us a quick introduction to the world of Nana and Nunu.

HF - Nunu the aardvark lives with Nana who runs a tea shop, but when he gets the sneezes on his birthday they have to set off to track down a magical flower with the power to stop his aardvark ‘achoo’!

SS - And with some help from Nana’s grandchildren, Jake and Sophie, we’ll take families on a fantastic journey full of songs, colour and adventure. We can’t wait!

You launched your company with an Easter pantomime, Sleeping Beauty, in 2014 at the Secombe Theatre, Sutton. What inspired you to start work on an all-new children’s show?

SS - I’d kept thinking we would do another Easter pantomime but working together we ended up having lots of ideas that moved away from that. Pantomimes can be very big and challenging to stage, so we’ve actually enjoyed creating an intimate, imaginative story for families.

HF - Janet and Allan Ahlberg and The Jolly Postman were big influences on both our childhoods and we wanted to create something that continued this great line of storytelling for children. Additionally I’ve always been a fan of slightly odds animals, so I was inspired seeing the aardvarks at London Zoo last year.

Tell us about those new ideas - how did the creative process develop?

HF - The design for Nunu the aardvark originally came from the photos I took at London Zoo. I went through a few different styles for the show's aesthetic before we came to the one we’re at now - it's traditional but uses modern colours and clean lines. We knew from the off that we wanted Nunu to be a puppet and we've been so lucky to work with Stitches and Glue who made Elephantom and The Light Princess for the National Theatre. They have an amazing list of clients and to work with their talented team has been a pleasure. Working from illustrations and photos, they combined mine and their visions into the puppet we have today.

Why did you settle on an aardvark?

HF - They’re inherently funny creatures. When I saw them at London Zoo they were sniffing people but their noses were so strong that they were getting stuck to people’s legs! They’re such odd creatures - they’ve almost gone off on a little branch of evolution all by themselves. I think we’ve got a lot of slow lorises and meerkats, but the aardvark is under-represented!

SS - We like things that are a little quirky! As the Director, I’m really exciting to be working with a puppet, something that we’ve commissioned and that no one will have ever seen before. I’m looking forward to exploring how to make Nunu come alive - he’s the central star of the show, yet he doesn’t speak.

What do you think is different or unique about Nana and Nunu?

SS - We’re very aware that we have a responsibility to present interesting and inspiring characters. We don’t want to work with princes and princesses all the time - Jake and Sophie are very relatable, kind characters. We also recognise that family units are very different, particularly in the role that grandparents play. That’s something that we talked about in development and is a very clear theme.

HF - We’ve found that an awful lot of kids come to our shows with their grandparents.

SS - This is a really nice show that celebrates that bond. Everyone remembers that exciting time you first went to see your grandparents and they gave you that chocolate bar that Mum and Dad wouldn’t let you have. There's something special about that. For me, it was always a bit of an adventure going to see grandparents, always exciting.

And what do you hope audiences will take away from your show?

SS - One of the things central to any Dame for a Laugh production is  interaction because there is a lot of passivity in the world, whether that’s watching TV, a film or listening to an audio book. We want to bring that sense of community, involvement and participation to our work.

HF - From a design perspective the show is very simple and elegant, so I hope audiences will be hooked and transported by the storytelling.

SS - We’d love to capture the imaginations of future theatre makers and goers. We genuinely want to hook them for life!

Nana and Nunu - The Big Sneeze! runs from 22nd - 25th July at the Pavilion Arts Centre Studio and takes children aged 3+ on a round the world adventure with a host of colourful characters.

For full details and to book tickets visit: http://underthefringe.com/. Full details of Dame for a Laugh can be found at www.dameforalaugh.com

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