Interview: Les Petits on Captain Flinn 2 – The Magic Cutlass

Based on the award-winning book by Giles Andre and Russell Ayto, Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs 2: The Magic Cutlass comes to the Pleasance Courtyard’s Fringe offering from 3rd to 29th August. I speak to Director of the show Hal Chambers about the inspiration behind it, what we can expect, and why children’s theatre is so important. 

Venue: Pleasance Courtyard (One)

Dates: 03/08/2016 – 29/08/2016 (not 16th)

Time: 10:30

Tell us about Captain Flinn? 

Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs 2: The Magic Cutlass follows the adventures of daring young pirate Captain (Flinn) and his plucky crew (Pearl and Tom). Our three heroes are performing their school play when they are kidnapped by a naughty crew of pirate dinosaurs and taken to a real pirate ship. Flinn must rescue a magic cutlass from deep under the sea, or all three of the kids will be put into a sausage machine by the evil Captain T-Rex.

If this all sounds very silly – well yes, it is. Giles Andreae and Russell Ayto’s book is extremely funny, exuberant and colourful. Oliver Lansley’s adaptation takes the essence of the story’s arc and fleshes it out with extra scenes and fantastical sequences. Tom Recknell supplies the brilliant hum-along tunes, Zoe Squire’s design is playful and Matt Leventhall’s lighting brings the atmosphere thrillingly to life. Max Humphries’ Dinosaur puppets and masks are a real highlight too.

What was it about the story of The Magic Cutlass that attracted you to adapt it? Do you think children’s literature is better suited to adaptation than other genres? 

The most fun stories to adapt are the most unstageable. This one has caused us many headaches! Trying to portray a pirate dinosaur T-Rex on stage is hard enough, but add in a journey on the high seas, an underwater adventure complete with an ensemble of sea creatures and an extravagant fight between the kid crew and the pirate dinosaurs, and the challenge is pretty overwhelming. As a theatre maker I love those challenges and our rehearsal room has been full of laughter as we have tried to work out how a Diplodocus sings and how you use a wish-granting cutlass! The Magic Cutlass is visually thrilling so it gives us lots of fodder to use our creative flair. 

Children’s picture books are so much fun to adapt as they are led by images and not necessarily words. When we rehearse we stick the images of the book all around the room to gain inspiration. But you have to put your own creative spin on things too – the book serves as an inspiration, but we add our own flavours.

Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs 2 The Magic Cutlass Credit Graham Lewis (2)

Image: Graham Lewis

What is your favourite thing about children’s theatre and why do you choose to create it? 

The best thing is the children themselves. Children have a vast imagination so as a director you can be hugely theatrical and wild. The worlds you create can be colourful and expansive. Basically, it gives you full license to go for it as children are prepared to believe that flying carpets, dangerous wizards and, in this case, pirate dinosaurs are real. We are entering into the world of ‘play’ that children live in, yet the important thing is that they know they are playing. Imagination is a very serious sport! That’s why we, as actors and theatre-makers, should take kids seriously; never patronising them and challenging them to dream wildly! They are such a tough audience to please. If they aren’t digging something you’re presenting to them, they will start talking, wander around and (the final straw) ask to go to the loo! Imagine if an adult audience did this? It would be carnage! Therefore kids are the ultimate audience. If they don’t believe what the actors are doing, don’t buy into the logic of the theatrical world or don’t like the music, they will make it VERY clear indeed. As a director, I have tried to tune into my inner 5-year-old. In rehearsals, I try and make sure he is happy!

I direct many different kinds of theatre, but the family show is my favourite simply because the audience are so important. If we don’t inspire and challenge young audiences to think creatively, to be brave, to question, to provoke, to dream, then who will?

Describe your working process: how do you go about choosing the work you produce and how do you bring it to the stage? 

Much of the family work I create is original. This is quite rare and difficult as a financial enterprise, but I feel it is as important as adapting well-known storybooks (which I have also done). I write my own stories with my theatre company Tucked In and, in the past, have brought them to Edinburgh Fringe before touring the rest of the U.K. So sometimes, I have the idea to put a new story on the stage or I will take a picture book and pitch it to other theatre companies. I recently co-directed The Bear by Raymond Briggs with Emma Earle (Pins and Needles). We managed to get the rights from Briggs’ agent and then needed to find co-producers to support us. We worked with Polka Theatre (where we opened the show for a three-week run) and the Albany Deptford (where it played over Christmas 2015). Then we booked a tour and managed to get a little bit of Arts Council money to top up the budget. It was a hard slog but we very proud of that show. We had a huge polar bear puppet made by Samuel Wyer (who designs for Les Enfant Terribles) and it went down very well. The whole process of having the idea to make a family show and opening it in a theatre takes about 18 months. When you finally put it in front of children, you learn so much about it. For example, when we performed our first preview of The Magic Cutlass last week there were a few sobs in the scary bits. We toned down the sounds and the lights in this sequence for the next day and we haven’t had the same reaction since. We learn so much from the children’s reactions – they are integral to the whole process.

Image: Graham Lewis (Edinburgh Fringe)

Image: Graham Lewis

Favourite show you’ve seen (that’s not one of your own)? 

Bucket List by Theatre Ad Infinitum. A brilliantly dramatic revenge tragedy for our modern age with a stunning female cast, great movement, epic tunes and a knockout finale.

What’s your favourite thing about the Edinburgh Fringe?

The buzz. You can feel it everywhere. ‘Have you seen this show? Did you hear about that show?’ The beer gardens, the new friendships and reunions with old pals. Getting the five-star review. Getting the one-star review! It is my twelfth fringe and I have experienced all of the highs and lows, I can assure you!  

How would you describe Captain Flinn in three words?

Silly. Epic. Sausages. 

Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs 2: The Magic Cutlass plays at Pleasance Courtyard (One) until 29th August. Follow the company on Twitter or book tickets here

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