On with the show
Derby Theatre’s Christmas shows are always a special treat for audiences, but it takes more than a year of meticulous planning and craftsmanship to create
that stage magic, as Nigel Powlson found out
Christmas is always a special time for theatres with all the stops pulled out to make a magical festive show that will capture the imaginations of all ages. That can only be achieved with lots of hard work and careful planning, with Derby Theatre taking 14 months from concept to opening night to bring its Christmas productions together.
This season you can see Hansel and Gretel in the main house and Goldilocks and the Three Bears in the Studio, with both shows being directed by the theatre’s artistic director Sarah Brigham.
For Sarah the planning process started in October 2017, with the titles chosen before an outline script is begun.
She says: ‘ Hansel and Gretel went on sale on the opening night of Peter Pan last year so that’s how far we have to think ahead. While we are in rehearsals for one Christmas show we are already thinking about the next one.
‘At that point all we have is the title, but I’m still thinking “is there a good story in there” and then I start talking to the writers about it. If we are working with a new script, and we often are, the design and writing happen together. We have a first draft quite quickly, or at least an outline of what we think is important and how we are going to tell that story, and then the designer gets to work.
‘The design is all confirmed by the summer as it has to be built and production workshops are really busy in the run up to Christmas as every theatre in the land is producing, including ones that don’t normally. You have to get your production building slot booked in as soon as you can.
‘The script will then continue to go through tweaks but nothing major. Hansel and Gretel is
Hansel and Gretel – you know the setting, that there is going to be a gingerbread house, and we are not going to change all of that greatly.’
Ivan Stott, who is writing the music for both shows will then begin composing.
Sarah says: ‘That develops further when he starts working with the actor-musicians as a kind of band. He will bring an idea and they will spend time jamming around with that until he solidifies it. The musicians are so talented and varied in the instruments they can play (this year we have cast members who can play six or seven different instruments) that Ivan might imagine a piece with violins, but they might say “I can do this even better on sax”.
‘The rehearsal period becomes a really creative time in terms of the music as well as getting the story off its feet. Some commercial pantos might be rehearsed in a week, whereas we invest a lot in that time, so the actors are really part of the process.’
The titles of the shows are allimportant in terms of drawing audiences in and Sarah knows what will work and what might prove to be more risky.
She says: ‘We look for something for the Studio that the little ones will know and love – nursery rhymes or traditional stories. With the main house it’s similar but we are trying to think of something that has cross-generational appeal as it will range from small children to grandmas and grandpas.
‘At Christmas people want something they know and love. They might not know what your version is going to be, but with Hansel and Gretel they know there will be a gingerbread house and loads of sweets. They want