BADAPPLE Theatre Company will return to live performances this summer with Tales From The Great Wood.
“This is a new short play for children and grandparents – and everyone else – to enjoy together that can be performed indoor or outdoor,” says writer-director Kate Bramley, founder of the Green Hammerton theatre-on-your-doorstep proponents, as she introduces her interactive storytelling eco-adventure.
“Listen! Can you hear the whispering in the trees? The Great Wood is full of stories. It’s a hot summer’s day, perfect for basking in the sun, but instead of resting, Hetty the hare is investigating because someone is missing.
“As she unravels a tall tale that stretches from end to end of The Great Wood, Hetty realises that every creature – no matter how small – can have a huge part to play in the world of the forest.”
Starring York actor Richard Kay, Danny Mellor and a host of puppets made by designer Catherine Dawn, this show for ages five to 95 will be performed at the Covid-secure Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, on July 2 and 3.
“We’ll also be playing Skipsea Village Hall on the Sunday, and we’re looking to do some outdoor performances too, such as at stately homes, with Annabelle Polito working on that for us at the moment,” says Kate.
“I’m trying to create a show that is ‘omni-everything’: suitable for outdoor spaces and for indoors, so it’s not only a play for all seasons, but a play for all eventualities.”
To add to the feeling of resurgence, Badapple Theatre Company is celebrating being awarded two grants to support its youth theatre classes, as well as the resumption of professional live shows this summer.
Over lockdown, the North Yorkshire touring theatre company moved its youth theatre classes online, created a free Theatre On Your Desktop podcast series of online plays and even converted an empty grain store into a theatre/film studio to record two of its plays, Eddie And The Gold Tops and The Snow Dancer.
Now, the Local Fund Harrogate District, administered by Two Ridings Community Foundation, has provided £2,908 to cover Badapple’s core costs and ensure its community projects can continue through to August, such as its regular youth theatre sessions in the village.
“Meanwhile, Arts Council England has awarded £15,000 in financial support to commission new plays for the youth theatre and youth summer school and to ensure a return to professional live performance,” says Kate, Badapple’s artistic director.
“We’re delighted to be celebrating both of these grant awards. The two go hand in hand to keep us afloat with our community work right now and keep us moving forward with brand new shows for audiences this summer.”
Looking back on a 21st anniversary year spent under the Covid cloud, Kate says: “Arts Council England stepped in and bailed us out spectacularly, but we couldn’t monetise the online programme, beyond getting plenty of hits for the Christmas show, but certainly we couldn’t live off that.”
Badapple resumed live performances last September with Suffer Fools Gladly, actor Danny Mellor’s hour-long comedy about the perils and perks of always having to tell the truth, presented in Yorkshire private gardens, campsites and hall car parks.
“We really hit lucky with Danny’s show, and we were really lucky with the September weather, except for the last show, when we needed a sturdy, stoic audience!” says Kate. “The shows were utterly Covid-safe too.”
Reflecting on how theatre companies responded to the Coronavirus crisis, Kate comments: “So many companies adapted to the social need, whether to run food banks or provide outdoor events, and that’s a good thing to come out of the arts world in pandemic times.
“There’s been less navel-gazing with a lot of good companies looking beyond their own agenda to think, ‘what do people need from us now?’.”
Looking ahead, Kate reveals: “December 2021 will see the rescheduling of our original eco-fable The Snow Dancer, the Christmas show that we were so lucky to present in a handful of performances at the Joseph Rowntree Theatre in December 2020 between lockdowns.
“Our Christmas remit is always to play to children and grandparents, so that’s our agenda again, to bring those two generations back to seeing things together,” says Kate.
“May/June 2022 will finally – everything crossed! – see the long awaited and much- postponed premiere of my brand-new comedy Elephant Rock. This twice-postponed show is already funded by Arts Council England, so we’re excited to be programming venues for this event from now onwards.”
What happens in Elephant Rock? “From the great age of the steamers and through the heyday of the British seaside resorts, the old Palace dance hall stood proudly on the pier, attended by the greatest of all attractions, the Mechanical Elephant,” says Kate.
“But the relentless tides have chipped away at the coast and the mighty Elephant Rock that gave the headland its name seemingly walked off overnight. Join us for a night of comic capers from a family who are trying to keep the Palace doors on, and open, as they delve into a complicated family history of music hall owners spanning 100 years and 5,000 miles to the elephant-filled grasslands of Sri Lanka.”
At the heart of Badapple’s Arts Council funding bid was an emphasis on children, leading to a focus on commissioning new plays for the youth theatre and supporting the youth summer school.
“In the pandemic, children have not only lost a year’s work at school, but also a year of playing and social-skill building, when they’ve not been able to relax their bodies and lark about, instead being in a ‘straitjacket’ at home,” says Kate.
“They’ve been amazing in keeping to social distancing and in putting up with how they’ve had to be dressed.”
Kate continues: “That’s why it’s important for us to be exploratory in how we tell children’s stories and how we let them have fun now, so with that in mind, we’ve asked Richard Kay to write us a pantomime for our youth theatre.
“He’s written a couple of shows for us, Cinderella and a mash-up of Snow White and Babes In The Wood, so that there could be a big cast with plenty for them all to do.
“He understands how to write a pantomime that’s very funny but also entirely appropriate for Key 2 children, so we’re really excited about it.”
Kay’s 2021 pantomime will feature young actors who have attended Badapple youth theatre sessions on Zoom in lockdown. “We’re hoping of course that it will be the first chance for parents and wider audiences to see them on stage again,” says Kate.
“The children have worked so hard for a year, but apart from the odd vignette online, parents haven’t been able to see them perform or see the big strides they’ve made.
“We’re kind of in awe of how good spirited they’ve been in taking part in exactly the same way even though it’s just each of them in their own room, connecting online.
“For some of them, it’s been the making of them, with their confidence picking up when there’s no peer pressure about how they look or how they feel, and all of them keeping it high energy in an hour’s involvement.”
Kate adds: “For some, it’s given a greater depth to their performances because they’ve had no distractions, so that’s been the bonus, with them really thriving in the online environment, though we all agree that ‘live is best’.”
Even though the Government has decreed youth theatre sessions can be resumed indoors, Badapple’s young performers have wanted to do outdoor sessions. “It’s that thing of enjoying nature in a different way, improvising with the world around us, making playlets based on the garden settings around us,” Kate says.
Outdoor performance takes her back to Cornish youth. “When I grew up, the company I would see was Kneehigh, before they became the national name they are now, doing open-air shows.
“Then, when I was with Cornwall Youth Theatre Company, there was always that thing of grand pageantry, so that outdoor theme has always been important to me, and I’m really happy to be building up youth theatre work that has an outdoor element to it,” says Kate.
“If this past year has given me anything to think about, if I’m to keep going for another 20 years, I would like to mix indoor and outdoor strands, as we’ve always been ecologically minded.
“For us, it’s always about storytelling and creating a storytelling experience that’s magical when people come together, and it’s just about finding different ways of doing that.”
Kate notes how Badapple’s philosophy chimes with Arts Council England’s thinking. “I don’t think we’ve done anything differently to gain funding. It’s the fact that the Arts Council’s Let Create strategy, handed out before lockdown, is much more in alignment with how we think about arts provision and productions, where they seek three strands: community involvement, excellence in artists and international pedigree,” she says.
“We’ve always felt our work is as valuable as everyone else’s, and we seem to be on a crest of a wave, having created a strategy that chimes with everyone. The Arts Council have done us so proud, intervening in a way where there are possibilities on so many different levels for us.
“Harrogate Borough Council and North Yorkshire County Council have freed up funding too, ending up with us breaking even in the latest financial year, and I’ve never been so proud about that. We’re still trading, we’re still alive and kicking, with good projects to look forward to.”
Another plus point of the past year has been forging a partnership with the Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York’s community-run theatre in Haxby Road, first for The Snow Dancer last December and now for Tales From The Great Wood in July.
“That’s something that would never happened without the pandemic, doing the socially distanced performances of The Snow Dancer after their board member Moira Tait hosted three shows of Suffer Fools Gladly in her garden,” says Kate.
“Now, we’re excited to premiere Tales From The Great Woods at the Rowntree Theatre, as it fits our ethos of taking shows to people that wouldn’t otherwise see it.
“They want us to do The Snow Dancer there again in this winter’s tour and we want to support them as much as possible, as we were bowled over by how they kitted out the theatre to be Covid-safe for last winter’s shows.”
Badapple Theatre Company presents Tales From The Great Wood, Joseph Rowntree Theatre, York, July 2, 7.30pm, and July 3, 11am, 2.30pm and 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 501935.
Copyright of The Press, York