Interview: Teresa Burns, How It Ended

“The little gardener worked very hard but he was just too little to make a difference. One night, he makes a wish ‘for a little bit of help’ and as he sleeps the local children, inspired by his beautiful flower, help bring his garden to life.”

Photo credit: Eva Sampson
Photo credit: Eva Sampson

So begins the story of Emily Hughes’ The Little Gardener, adapted by How It Ended, in association with Scamp Theatre. Dramaturg and co-artistic director Teresa Burns explains what drew the company to the story:

“We’re big fans of Emily Hughes so we were very excited about the book’s release last year. The Little Gardener felt like perfect subject material for adaptation, particularly outdoor theatre – not only because of its setting but because of its message about community. The story beautifully illustrates the impact an act of kindness can make on a person’s life and how it can inspire them to carry on.

We’d love our audiences to take away a sense of community; a feeling that by working together you can make something really special.”

The play, which is currently touring and free to attend, is set in a greenhouse, containing a real garden. “The greenhouse is interactive in the sense that it can be opened up to allow children inside. Inside the greenhouse sits a large tree (wherein the Little Gardener sleeps) and flower beds – ready for planting! The set is designed and built by James Lewis, who’s done a remarkable job. The set breaks down into 28 pieces and we tour with over 100 flowers.”

Photo credit: Rachel Ferriman
Photo credit: Rachel Ferriman

It’s not the company’s first collaboration with author Emily Hughes. “Last year, we worked with Emily on the stage adaptation of her debut book Wild and we conducted a really successful period of research and development.  We’re hoping to bring Wild to theatres in 2017.

“Emily is such a joy to work with. From day one she has been so warm and encouraging. She isn’t precious about her work and pushes us to delve deeper or go darker, which is really freeing.” 

The fact that The Little Gardener is an interactive show does bring with it an element of unpredictability: “Every audience is different, so we’ve tried our best to prepare for every perceivable eventuality. But of course audiences will always surprise you! Some children are very comfortable with handling plants and getting their hands dirty, whilst others are understandably more hesitant, so it’s about making those children feel at ease. For each performance we have a lovely team of Production Assistants/Gardeners who are there to make sure the audience are happy.”

How It Ended’s goal is to excite young audiences and inspire the next generation of theatre makers. The honesty and responsiveness of children is fantastic. They certainly let you know how they feel about the show whether it be positive or negative – you know where you stand! But making work for young children is boundlessly rewarding, they give back in ways older audiences don’t.

“When we opened the show last week at The Lyric we had lots of children linger around the greenhouse with their parents after the show. They wanted to make comments on the show and ask questions about the flowers and the greenhouse – which was wonderful. It’s great to see them discussing the show, as it hopefully challenges their expectations of what theatre can be.”

Photo credit: Eva Sampson
Photo credit: Eva Sampson

Catch The Little Gardener at Greenwich and Docklands International Festival (25th – 26th June), Watford Palace Theatre (2nd – 3rd July), Latitude Festival (17th July) and Stockwood Discovery Centre (29th – 30th July). All performances are free to attend and are non-ticketed. Ages 3+.

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