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Charlie and Lola’s Extremely New Play

11 April 2013 Rachel Ridge

Following the international success of Charlie and Lola's Bestest Play, everyone's favourite brother and sister are back onstage in a whole new adventure! We caught up with director Roman Stefanski to find out more about the magical journey of making Charlie and Lola's Extremely New Play!

London Calling: This is the second play you’ve directed of this much-loved program, what do Charlie and Lola get up to this time round?

Roman Stefanski: This time round the play picks up more of the storylines from the books and the TV shows. We’ve got three more characters that join Charlie and Lola; there’s Lola’s best friend Lotta, Charlie’s best friend Marv and Sizzles the dog! Everybody has been asking is Sizzles the dog going to make an appearance and the answer is YES! I didn’t realise how important this was! There will be an adventure where Sizzles get lost in the park; also the friendship between Lotta and Lola gets challenged. There’s a wonderful episode where it snows and they build snowmen and go skating and that’s a fun one. It’s a lovely crazy world I live in I think!

LC: What funniness can we expect from Lola?

RS: She has a really adventurous mind and it’s just wonderful seeing Charlie roll his eyes saying no Lola you can’t do that! He is such a saint of a brother! Its just lovely watching Lola’s mind as she’s trying to work out new things and new experiences like when she goes back to school and the teacher has changed, because the previous teacher has got pregnant, and this teacher uses a red star instead of a gold star and uses a red pen to tick the exercise books instead of a blue one. I remember that when I was a kid at school that you’d go back to a new year and all of a sudden things had changed! And it’s weird how I empathise with this, it’s a lovely buzz for me I must say!

LC: Do you think the program is something the whole family can enjoy?

RS: Definitely. The writing is beautifully done where it reaches all ages ranges. This is the actual experience for the child so they can empathise with it, and for us adults of course we remember perhaps ourselves but also we are witnessing these youngsters growing up and seeing this is what is happening! And it’s wonderful those experiences when the child will come up with a phrase or a sentence that you haven’t heard before, which they’ve obviously overheard some adult saying, and they have delightfully twisted the words slightly, and made them back to front. It’s a beautiful thing, in a way, perhaps that is the better simpler-child logic way of saying it, it’s just we grown ups keep on coming up with rules. We the grown ups complicate it more and more, whereas the child is simple and straightforward, that’s the other gorgeous quality of the play.

LC: You used two children to give voiceovers; can you talk a bit about your decision behind this? Also what it was like orchestrating this on stage?

RS: In effect, it’s a pre recorded show. We needed children’s voices, as the whole concept is that it is a child’s world and there’s no adult present in everything. Unfortunately Charlie and Lola has been out of production for about four years and the children who did the TV voices have grown up, they don’t qualify anymore! So we had to rush around and audition voices going to local schools and drama club with our little iPhones aimed at the faces of all these children. Our selection was good because when we went back to Tiger Aspect (the TV production company) they were amazed at the sound match and the quality that we found.

LC: How did you get these very young children to learn lines?

RS: The children can’t really read the scripts as they’re about four or five years old so there was a voice director who was with them in the recording studio. They will read out the line and the child will mimic it back, with this you’ll find the child will have it’s interpretation and that becomes great fun. Then we had the headache of cutting it up, bringing those phrases together and interlinking them as a conversation, so it is a slow process but the end result is just gorgeous.

LC:Can you talk about your decision behind the puppetry?

RS: We decided to respect Lauren Child’s way of using cartoons and photographs of various objects. I call them photo collages, so it’s all two dimensional, and that two dimensionality we’ve kept in a three dimensional world. In effect they are almost like cut outs, they’re about 70 cm high and it is learning how to use them because it isn’t the same as human beings just running around on stage. The puppets have charm and of course they have their limitations, so in rehearsals we are learning how to know the characters but also how to manipulate them. To make it work we cant actually turn them around, if you do you’ll only see them as thin pieces of paper, so everything has to be out front and that’s a delightful challenge. The comedia dell’arte classic theatre style is the sort of style that we’re using and it works in this puppetry presentation.

LC: Were you trying to stay as true as possible to the illustrations of Lauren Child?

RS: Yes and in a way when you open the books of Lauren Child they’ve got their own lovely feel to them and that is definitely what we want to bring to the stage. The TV programme is sort of the stepping-stone. When we put on productions we always like going back to the original material and develop it through that, otherwise you get that Chinese whispers thing when it goes from one thing to anothe. We want to know where does it come from? Why was it like this anyway?

LC: Will there be any show-stopping moments like the butterflies and bubbles of Charlie and Lola’s Bestest Play?

RS: Ooh there hopefully will be, ha-ha! I think we’ll have a little bit of something bubbling up in the audience. It helps to make them feel a part of it, if you see things happening over you then there a lovely buzz. At the same time though you don’t want to make it too panto, we’re putting on a play that the child is listening to and one of the joys working at Polka is the silence that the auditorium can fall into. And that’s a huge compliment because if it’s silent the child is listening and thinking. If you’re hearing the audience that means the child is fidgeting or talking, you haven’t engaged with the child. It’s the same as bedtime stories, when you read bedtime stories there’s that wonderful silence that the child is next to you and just listening to your voice, picturing the story in their head. It’s that sort of magic and when you get that right that is the biggest compliment you can have.

LC: Do you feel the play captures the exciting energy of Charlie and Lola a lot more so than the TV series?

RS: I think so because it’s live, it’s in front of you and you’re seeing the actual characters. When journalists talk to children they ask them what they like, asking about Star Wars and all the fantastic stuff on TV and the cinema, many times the child will say, ‘no this is live this is in front of me and that is far more spectacular then sitting down at home watching the TV.’ They’ve made this effort to come out and they’re getting this fresh experience in their face and that is captivating.

LC: What was your favourite part of making the play?

RS: Haha, oh that’s unfair! All the stages are challenging and interesting, the one thing I think I’m enjoying more this time is I’ve got the same company that worked on Charlie and Lola’s Bestest Play. This means the company know the characters and they know how to operate the puppets, so in that way together we can really have more fun in creating a little bit more magic by speeding up the process as opposed to struggling. Also, just listening in on the sound recording and listening to the children’s voices is like a radio playing. You can hear all the nuances and you start picturing, and the child is picturing when it’s saying those lines, because you can feel it in the inflections and the timings and the stress. Even a simple thing like that was so enjoyable, as well as making the puppets, getting them made, trying them out and getting excited. Each stepping-stone is a joy for me.

LC: What was it like having the play’s debut at the Sydney Opera House? How did it go?

RS: Please! I am on the other side of the world at the Sydney Opera House with Charlie and Lola. What crazy world am I living in!? It was wonderful, with full houses, and the Australian audience loved it. I was rehearsing with an Australian company and luckily all of them were from the company of Charlie and Lola’s Bestest Play, which also toured in Australia, so again I had this company who were excited to join me again. Come on! Me, a little Brit walking across the Plaza and up the steps and into that nun’s hat of an architecture, with the harbour bridge and the luxury liners that pull in there as well, unbelievable! Walking there to work, I’m going through the most luxurious botanical gardens, it couldn’t be better could it.

LC: Can you see yourself going on a Worldwide Charlie and Lola tour?

RS: You know originally with Charlie and Lola’s Bestest Play it was popular in Brazil, also Singapore and Hong Kong. It has worldwide recognition and it has been a wonderful experience for me! There’s been such positive feedback wherever we go, the auditorium has fun at the right moments and there’s silence at the right moments, so it is desperately good quality entertainment and it is wonderful if it can carry on like that.

LC: This is the second play you’ve directed of this much-loved program, what do Charlie and Lola get up to this time round?

RS: This time round the play picks up more of the storylines from the books and the TV shows. We’ve got three more characters that join Charlie and Lola; there’s Lola’s best friend Lotta, Charlie’s best friend Marv and Sizzles the dog! Everybody has been asking is Sizzles the dog going to make an appearance and the answer is YES! I didn’t realise how important this was! There will be an adventure where Sizzles get lost in the park; also the friendship between Lotta and Lola gets challenged. There’s a wonderful episode where it snows and they build snowmen and go skating and that’s a fun one. It’s a lovely crazy world I live in I think!

LC: What funniness can we expect from Lola?

RS: She has a really adventurous mind and it’s just wonderful seeing Charlie roll his eyes saying no Lola you can’t do that! He is such a saint of a brother! Its just lovely watching Lola’s mind as she’s trying to work out new things and new experiences like when she goes back to school and the teacher has changed, because the previous teacher has got pregnant, and this teacher uses a red star instead of a gold star and uses a red pen to tick the exercise books instead of a blue one. I remember that when I was a kid at school that you’d go back to a new year and all of a sudden things had changed! And it’s weird how I empathise with this, it’s a lovely buzz for me I must say!

LC: Do you think the program is something the whole family can enjoy?

RS: Definitely. The writing is beautifully done where it reaches all ages ranges. This is the actual experience for the child so they can empathise with it, and for us adults of course we remember perhaps ourselves but also we are witnessing these youngsters growing up and seeing this is what is happening! And it’s wonderful those experiences when the child will come up with a phrase or a sentence that you haven’t heard before, which they’ve obviously overheard some adult saying, and they have delightfully twisted the words slightly, and made them back to front. It’s a beautiful thing, in a way, perhaps that is the better simpler-child logic way of saying it, it’s just we grown ups keep on coming up with rules. We the grown ups complicate it more and more, whereas the child is simple and straightforward, that’s the other gorgeous quality of the play.

LC: You used two children to give voiceovers; can you talk a bit about your decision behind this? Also what it was like orchestrating this on stage?

RS: In effect, it’s a pre recorded show. We needed children’s voices, as the whole concept is that it is a child’s world and there’s no adult present in everything. Unfortunately Charlie and Lola has been out of production for about four years and the children who did the TV voices have grown up, they don’t qualify anymore! So we had to rush around and audition voices going to local schools and drama club with our little iPhones aimed at the faces of all these children. Our selection was good because when we went back to Tiger Aspect (the TV production company) they were amazed at the sound match and the quality that we found.

LC: How did you get these very young children to learn lines?

RS: The children can’t really read the scripts as they’re about four or five years old so there was a voice director who was with them in the recording studio. They will read out the line and the child will mimic it back, with this you’ll find the child will have it’s interpretation and that becomes great fun. Then we had the headache of cutting it up, bringing those phrases together and interlinking them as a conversation, so it is a slow process but the end result is just gorgeous.

LC: Can you talk about your decision behind the puppetry?

RS: We decided to respect Lauren Child’s way of using cartoons and photographs of various objects. I call them photo collages, so it’s all two dimensional, and that two dimensionality we’ve kept in a three dimensional world. In effect they are almost like cut outs, they’re about 70 cm high and it is learning how to use them because it isn’t the same as human beings just running around on stage. The puppets have charm and of course they have their limitations, so in rehearsals we are learning how to know the characters but also how to manipulate them. To make it work we cant actually turn them around, if you do you’ll only see them as thin pieces of paper, so everything has to be out front and that’s a delightful challenge. The comedia dell’arte classic theatre style is the sort of style that we’re using and it works in this puppetry presentation.

LC: Were you trying to stay as true as possible to the illustrations of Lauren Child?

RS: Yes and in a way when you open the books of Lauren Child they’ve got their own lovely feel to them and that is definitely what we want to bring to the stage. The TV programme is sort of the stepping-stone. When we put on productions we always like going back to the original material and develop it through that, otherwise you get that Chinese whispers thing when it goes from one thing to anothe. We want to know where does it come from? Why was it like this anyway?

LC: Will there be any show-stopping moments like the butterflies and bubbles of Charlie and Lola’s Bestest Play?

RS: Ooh there hopefully will be, ha-ha! I think we’ll have a little bit of something bubbling up in the audience. It helps to make them feel a part of it, if you see things happening over you then there a lovely buzz. At the same time though you don’t want to make it too panto, we’re putting on a play that the child is listening to and one of the joys working at Polka is the silence that the auditorium can fall into. And that’s a huge compliment because if it’s silent the child is listening and thinking. If you’re hearing the audience that means the child is fidgeting or talking, you haven’t engaged with the child. It’s the same as bedtime stories, when you read bedtime stories there’s that wonderful silence that the child is next to you and just listening to your voice, picturing the story in their head. It’s that sort of magic and when you get that right that is the biggest compliment you can have.

LC: Do you feel the play captures the exciting energy of Charlie and Lola a lot more so than the TV series?

RS: I think so because it’s live, it’s in front of you and you’re seeing the actual characters. When journalists talk to children they ask them what they like, asking about Star Wars and all the fantastic stuff on TV and the cinema, many times the child will say, ‘no this is live this is in front of me and that is far more spectacular then sitting down at home watching the TV.’ They’ve made this effort to come out and they’re getting this fresh experience in their face and that is captivating.

LC: What was your favourite part of making the play

RS: Haha, oh that’s unfair! All the stages are challenging and interesting, the one thing I think I’m enjoying more this time is I’ve got the same company that worked on Charlie and Lola’s Bestest Play. This means the company know the characters and they know how to operate the puppets, so in that way together we can really have more fun in creating a little bit more magic by speeding up the process as opposed to struggling. Also, just listening in on the sound recording and listening to the children’s voices is like a radio playing. You can hear all the nuances and you start picturing, and the child is picturing when it’s saying those lines, because you can feel it in the inflections and the timings and the stress. Even a simple thing like that was so enjoyable, as well as making the puppets, getting them made, trying them out and getting excited. Each stepping-stone is a joy for me.

LC: What was it like having the play’s debut at the Sydney Opera House? How did it go

RS: Please! I am on the other side of the world at the Sydney Opera House with Charlie and Lola. What crazy world am I living in!? It was wonderful, with full houses, and the Australian audience loved it. I was rehearsing with an Australian company and luckily all of them were from the company of Charlie and Lola’s Bestest Play, which also toured in Australia, so again I had this company who were excited to join me again. Come on! Me, a little Brit walking across the Plaza and up the steps and into that nun’s hat of an architecture, with the harbour bridge and the luxury liners that pull in there as well, unbelievable! Walking there to work, I’m going through the most luxurious botanical gardens, it couldn’t be better could it.

LC: Can you see yourself going on a Worldwide Charlie and Lola tour?

RS: You know originally with Charlie and Lola’s Bestest Play it was popular in Brazil, also Singapore and Hong Kong. It has worldwide recognition and it has been a wonderful experience for me! There’s been such positive feedback wherever we go, the auditorium has fun at the right moments and there’s silence at the right moments, so it is desperately good quality entertainment and it is wonderful if it can carry on like that.

Charlie and Lola's Extremely New Play is showing at the Polka Theatre from 27 April - 17 August 2013. For more information and to book tickets please click here.

 

 

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