CASSIE Vallance, such a scene stealer in Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre’s jazz-age Twelfth Night in the summer in York, is seeing out the year in snow, ice and storms at York Theatre Royal.
Until January 4, Cassie is starring in writer-director Matt Aston’s new adaptation of two Benji Davies stories of The Storm Whale in the Studio’s Christmas show for four year olds and upwards.
Cassie is no stranger to the Theatre Royal as a storyteller in the Story Craft Theatre children’s sessions and an adult theatre workshop practitioner. The Storm Whale, however, marks the first time she has performed in a production there.
“I’m very familiar with the space,” she says. “I’ve been here a lot and seen a lot of shows. Now I’m very pleased to be doing a show that both my kids can come and watch.”
Her children, aged four and one, are the reason she knows Davies’s The Storm Whale and The Storm Whale In Winter, the two stories that have been turned into a stage play by Aston’s company, Engine House, in a co-production with York Theatre and the Little Angel Theatre in London.
“I have two boys, so I read the books a lot,” says Cassie. “I knew Grandad’s Island by Benji Davies as well. I do storytelling at the theatre and the first one I did was The Storm Whale In Winter.”
Cassie plays Noi, a boy who lives with his Dad and their six cats by the sea. One day Noi rescues a little whale washed up on the beach during a storm and a friendship begins that changes their lives forever.
As in all good children’s theatre, big issues permeate the story. “It’s very much about the importance of belonging and relationships and not feeling lonely. Sometimes people are lonely even in the busiest crowded room,” says Cassie.
“Noi is a sweet young boy who is very excitable when it comes to treasure hunting on the beach. He cares very much for his Dad but isn’t necessarily in a relationship where they talk all the time. He’s very passionate about finding friends, a bit awkward but very lovable.”
“And yes, I’m a grown woman playing a ten-year-old boy!” says Cassie, who sums up Noi in three words: “Endearing, awkward, thoughtful.”
In addition to the cast of three, Vallance, Julian Hoult and Gehane Strehler, the show features puppets aplenty: a whale of course, plus seagulls, a cat called Sandwich and even a small puppet Noi.
“Puppets change everything,” say Cassie. “And when you see a puppet being worked well, you get completely absorbed and lose the person behind it.”
She sees no difference between working on adult theatre, such as playing the gormless, goofy servant Fabian in Twelfth Night and Guildenstern in Hamlet this summer, and children’s theatre, such as The Storm Whale. What she does not enjoy is experiencing family shows that are patronising to children. “A lot of the time, children have a much great understanding than we give them credit for,” says Cassie. “Kids are really tuned in, especially on this big emotional stuff.”
Reflecting on ten summer weeks in York spent performing Shakespeare in a pop-up Elizabethan theatre on the Castle car park, Cassie says: “It was absolutely brilliant and I had the most fantastic time doing it.
“I was very fortunate. My other half and I are both actors and got the opportunity to do the show. I had a whale of a time – no pun intended. It was lovely to see people getting so much out of it. I got to be an absolute clown, which I loved doing.”
Now her focus is on playing Noi, and should you be seeking a treasure of a family show this winter, hunt this one down, recommends Cassie. “It’s a really lovely, hot chocolatey, yummy jam sandwich Christmas show,” she says.
The Storm Whale makes a splash at York Theatre Royal Studio until January 4 2020. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.