Anna Soden turns love of grumpy magical creature into streamed Five Children And It show on Explore York’s YouTube channel

Anna Soden in rehearsal for her children’s show Five Children And It

YORK company Strawberry Lion will premiere its streamed production of E Nesbit’s Five Children And It on Explore York libraries’  YouTube channel on Wednesday (7/4/2021) at 6pm.

Written and performed by York actor, musician, writer, theatre-maker and company founder Anna Soden, the show will be available online for free until 5pm on April 14.

Directed by Theatre Royal youth theatre director Kate Veysey, with music and lyrics by Jim Harbourne, the show is presented in association with Scarborough community producing company Arcade.

Suitable for family audiences aged five and upwards, this adaptation of Nesbit’s 1902 children’s novel is set on a Scarborough beach, as Anna invites you to “join Anthea as she tells her magical story through music, story-telling and puppetry,” promising that “sometimes the best adventures can happen on your doorstep”.

Anna was last seen on a York stage, or, rather, myriad stages in York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime, touring the city wards as a rapping, funky, blue and pink-haired, multi-tasking Fairy, more likely to hit the bass line than wave a wand, as flashy as her lit-up boots, with guitar in hand or trumpet between her lips.

In the summer, she had popped up in the Theatre Royal’s Pop-Up On The Patio season in York company Cosmic Collective Theatre’s rain-sodden afternoon performance of Heaven’s Gate, Joe Feeney’s ‌intergalactic‌ ‌pitch‌-black‌ comedy.

Strawberry Lion’s show poster for Five Children And It

There is no need to book for Strawberry Lion’s Five Children And It; simply head to @yorkexplore’s YouTube channel.

Here, Anna answers CharlesHutchPress’s questions on Strawberry Lion, E Nesbit’s book, Scarborough beach, Cosmic Collective Theatre and York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime.

When and why did you form Strawberry Lion?

“I made Strawberry Lion in September 2020. I’d had a great time re-staging Heaven’s Gate with Cosmic Collective Theatre over the summer, and was keen to continue making my own work, and expand my practice outside of just acting into writing/making.

“I’d never had time to do it before, but when theatres shut and acting work dried up last year, I knew that was my opportunity.”


Why did you choose the name Strawberry Lion?

“I remember a conversation with a friend when I was really young about words that shouldn’t go together, but when they do, they evoke a really strong tactile taste/ texture/mood, like Strawberry, Lion.

Strawberry Lion’s logo

“That’s always stuck in my brain. I essentially love those two words together, and it somehow represents the work I want to make quite well.”

Who else is involved in the company?

“Kate Veysey, from York Theatre Royal, is directing this project, and Sophie Drury Bradey, of Arcade, has been a monumental help as a consultant producer.”

What shows have you done so far?
“My play Mad For Our Daughters is being developed with [York-born, Manchester-based] singer-songwriter Harriet Forgan, and we performed an extract of the piece at the Belgrade Music Hall in Leeds in September, but Five Children and It will be Strawberry Lion’s first full-length show.”

Why adapt Five Children And It? Was this a story you read as a child?
“Yes! My mum introduced me to it. I had a very, very old, battered copy as a child that I used to take on holidays and read.

“So, when I was on the look-out for the perfect family story to adapt, I couldn’t believe Five Children And It wasn’t more widely done. It’s such a magical story, and I love how the magical creature in it is so grumpy. There’s a lot of fun in that!”

“I couldn’t believe Five Children And It wasn’t more widely done,” says Anna. “It’s such a magical story, and I love how the magical creature in it is so grumpy”

What age group will you be aiming the show at?
“It’s billed as ‘5+’, but I hope there’s something there for every age!”

Why set the story on Scarborough beach?
“Despite living in London for six years, I feel like Yorkshire and the North is always present in my writing, so I really wanted to embrace that. I love Scarborough – Scarbados!

“A huge theme in my adaptation is about finding adventure where you are: a reflection of what we all have to do while we can’t travel outside of our local area. It’s also about learning to appreciate your home, and we certainly are lucky to have a prehistoric coastline here in North Yorkshire.”

Where and how did you record the streamed performance?

“We recorded the performance in February in York Theatre Royal’s Billiard Room, with a fantastic team: filmed by Wayne Sables and Stan Gaskell and audio mixed by Oliver Ibbotson.”

How did Kate Veysey become involved as director?  Does your link go back to York Theatre Royal Youth Theatre days?
“Yes, I grew up in the youth theatre and adored my time there. I worked closely with Kate when I was playing Lyra in His Dark Materials as a teenager, and Kate also gave me support watching my audition speeches for drama school.

Director Kate Veysey in rehearsal for Five Children And It

“I’ve always come back to see the main-house shows and am constantly in awe of her Theatre Royal Youth Theatre productions. I think she’s an absolutely fantastic director, and I needed someone who knows theatre for young audiences inside out, so it was a no-brainer for me to ask her to direct. It’s a lovely full circle to be working with her as an adult.”

Jim Harbourne has written the music and lyrics. Have you worked with him before?
“No, I met Jim in the Summerhall courtyard in Edinburgh in 2018. I was in a Fringe show there, and Jim’s show, Myth Of A Singular Moment, was on in the same venue.

“I went to see it and adored it, and I couldn’t get over how gorgeous his music was. I’ve been itching to work with him ever since. I’m so thrilled he said ‘yes’ as his work in Five Children And It is MAGICAL.”

How did Explore York Libraries become involved?
“I approached them when I was putting in my Arts Council England project grant bid last autumn. Since it’s such a classic book, I felt the library was the perfect home for the show.”

Joe Feeney and Anna Soden in Cosmic Collective Theatre’s Heaven’s Gate

Any news on upcoming Cosmic Collective Theatre projects?
“I know Joe [Feeney] has been writing non-stop over lockdown, so we’ll be looking forward to starting new projects once the world gets a bit safer.”

The ground-breaking Travelling Pantomime went so well. What did you learn from that performance experience?

“It was a glorious experience! I guess I learnt that we can find a safe way through all this: live theatre is possible, and can be super safe, even at the height of the pandemic!

“It was also a nice reminder to not take performing for granted. When it’s your job, and I’ve been lucky to have worked quite consistently, there’s a danger you can get into a routine – but with this scenario, and restrictions changing all the time, we were performing every show like it could have been our last!”

When and where might you perform Five Children And It once live performances are feasible?

“It hasn’t been announced yet, so I don’t think I can say, but there will be a performance next month.” [A cursory inspection of the Strawberry Lion website reveals a show date of May 29 at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, but watch this space for confirmation of the exact details.]  

It’s all about the bass: Anna Soden’s funky Fairy in York Theatre Royal’s Travelling Pantomime last December

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