Getting Snarky: ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark meets Bedknobs and Broomsticks’
- Credit: Photo by Mark Douet
Bridget Galton talks to a husband and wife team bringing Lewis Carroll’s anarchic and bonkers poem to the West End stage
Alice in Wonderland has been endlessly adapted for the stage, but a husband and wife team from Islington are now bringing another Lewis Carroll classic to the West End.
The Hunting of the Snark is a nonsense poem about a motley crew on an impossible voyage to hunt for a mythical possibly dangerous creature.
Rina Gill and Garry McQuinn decided to create a show that their “combative, questioning” five year-old daughter might enjoy.
“We did this for Amahra,” says McQuinn. “Like many children she’s very sophisticated and wouldn’t accept being patronised.”
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It’s the first children’s venture for the Australian-born producer behind hit musical Priscilla Queen of the Desert.
“It was quite accidental,” he says. “We take her to a lot of shows. Some are startlingly good like the Little Angel puppet theatre which we love, and we come from this world of putting on theatre.”
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Hailed by one critic as “Raiders of the Lost Ark meets Bedknobs and Broomsticks,” the anarchic kid’s show sees a cast of five with puppets and original songs tell the tale of a riotous ragtag gang of adventurers including the Boy, the Banker, the Butcher, Baker, and a knitting Beaver who rescues them from near fatal scrapes. Along the way they meet Carroll’s iconic Jub Jub bird, sly Bandersnatch and the dastardly Boojum.
Although Carroll himself avoided saying what his poem was about, Gill sees it as an “ecological fairytale”.
“Carroll was asked many times and reluctantly said it was about the hunt for happiness. That chimes well with how we envisage the show. There’s a strong message in there as an ecological fairytale about an empowered child who fights to protect not hunt the Snark. Children’s theatre needs to be more engaging and challenging especially if you care about early childhood education, it’s another tool to help them learn. This is educational with a small e but has so much humour and is a father and son story.”
McQuinn, who still has multiple productions of Priscilla out on tour, adds: “We wanted to create something that crosses early childhood and has enough in it their parents might find fun. For me the humour and the music are key. Anything children learn is incidental to the enjoyment. It’s subversive and anarchic in the same way Priscilla was, but more gentle but touching. In fact the story is not a million miles away from Priscilla, a group of eccentrics on a journey connecting with a world they are unfamiliar with and finding belonging with one another.”
Although illustrator Henry Holiday drew the Snark for the poem’s publication, it was edited out by Carroll.
Gill says: “He wanted it to be left to the readers’ imagination. That thing of it being anything the reader wants is quite a modern idea but it’s been interesting thinking how to depict it on stage.”
Children visiting 10 Islington libraries last month including the Lewis Carroll children’s library in Copenhagen Street were invited to draw their own Snark for a competition with winners awarded tickets to the show.
Gill says: “Half the kids hadn’t been to a West End show. we’re keen to get them along and reintroduce a new generation to a classic in a fresh way.”
McQuinn, who explains that a producer’s job is to “take an idea and find the best people to make it happen,” says his reward with Priscilla was: “Sitting in an audience of middle-class straight men who had been dragged along by their wives come out with a tear in their eye over a love story between a transvestite and a man.”
He adds: “There comes a time when you get to give a bit back. I hope these kids go to the theatre and remember it as a magic experience.”
Hunting of The Snark is at the Vaudeville Theatre from July 28-September 3.