Interview: Joe Bromley and Willow Nash, Really Big Pants Theatre

“There’s just the two of us, and we came together after years of knowing each other as friends, then working together in a sketch show and various acting jobs. And then we thought, shall we bring all our vast experience together – of writing, performing, working with children (and having them) – and see what happens? And we decided our shows would all have themes that we both cared deeply about: literacy, the environment and a healthy body image.” 

Joe Bromley and Willow Nash are co-founders of the Really Big Pants Theatre Company, creating shows that celebrate and encourage literacy for primary age children. “We encourage children to learn to read through our love of stories. A character in SUDDENLY…! doesn’t want to do his story homework at the beginning because he thinks he’s no good at them, but by the end he’s got a great idea for a story and can’t wait to write it down. We believe storytelling is an excellent gateway into encouraging reluctant children to learn to read.” But the shows aren’t just fun for kids: “We’ve had wonderful feedback from parents and teachers alike, telling us how much they enjoyed the show alongside the children, and appreciated the morals.”

Photo credit: ID Photography
Photo credit: ID Photography

They’re performing their latest show, SUDDENLY…! at schools, arts centres and community venues, and describe it as “a story within a bedtime story, twisting traditional tales and featuring fairy tale characters as you’ve never seen them before. It’s an interactive adventure full of excitement, danger, friendship, forestry and the perils of bad manners and too much stuff!”

SUDDENLY…! has also been adapted as an audiobook, recorded by Joe and Willow, and described by the Kentish Towner as “non-stop adventure featuring delicious wordplay”. The ladies explain, “We were approached by a publisher and jumped at the opportunity to expand the world of the show, where it’s just the two of us playing all the characters with minimal props, and to bring in more descriptive language as well as the original dialogue. Audiobooks are becoming increasingly popular as a great way to enjoy a story as a whole family, and are inclusive for children who are struggling to read. We’re writing two new adventures for Grandma and Red, and hoping there will be print versions soon too.”

suddenly-cover
Illustration by Rosie Alabaster

With World Book Day coming up next week, Joe and Willow are looking forward to taking SUDDENLY…! into three primary schools to celebrate. “We love introducing children to the power of theatre and for some of them in schools, this will be the only chance they get to see a play. So our priority is making sure we provide great entertainment. And then we would like them to think about the messages in the play, such as being kind, trying your best, and friendship being more important than having lots of stuff. But we definitely want them to say afterwards, ‘I’m now going to read/write/make up my own story!’ and many of them do tell us that on their way out! We were beyond proud when, after seeing our show at his school, an eight-year-old boy went home and wrote his own book – complete with illustrations of us! – where our characters met the characters from the book he’d been reading. How brilliant!

“Another great moment was when we performed in a library for the Summer Reading Challenge, and a mother had brought her reluctant son to see the show, telling us he was not a keen reader at all. We kept an eye on him throughout – he started off with defensive body language, sitting slightly apart from the other children, but we watched him grow and grow in enthusiasm and join in and really get involved, and at the end he came up to us and said he wanted to take a book out of the library and try and read it. Hugely rewarding. We also love it when children in schools line up to fist bump us before heading off to their classrooms and ask us when we’ll be back! So many highlights, and always a joy to be on stage and see a sea of happy faces.”

Photo credit: ID Photography
Photo credit: ID Photography

And where do pants fit into all this?! “During rehearsals for PLUNDERED!, our show about the environment, we were working on a scene where our characters have to disguise themselves as pirates, and we decided they would rummage through a trunk of old clothes and find some really big pants. Hysteria kicked in and we rolled about laughing, like the true professionals we are. After months of formal deliberation over what we should call the company, the name finally came from that daft moment. But we use the pants in all our shows in one way or another – look out for them!”

To find out about future performances of SUDDENLY…! or to book Really Big Pants for a show, visit their website: www.reallybigpants.co.uk

The SUDDENLY…! audiobook is available from Waterstones and The Owl Bookshop.

Review: Into The Hoods: Remixed at the Orchard Theatre

Think you don’t like hip hop? Think again…

When one of my friends told me I had to go and see ZooNation, I was a bit sceptical, to say the least – it’s really not my sort of thing. But I’m always happy to be proved wrong (where theatre’s concerned, anyway), so when I heard the company were coming back to the Orchard, I figured I’d give them a try. And I’m really glad I did.

Into The Hoods was ZooNation’s first full-length show back in 2006. Since then it’s become the West End’s first hip hop dance show, won What’s On Stage and Olivier Awards, and formed part of Nelson Mandela’s 90th birthday celebrations. Into The Hoods: Remixed is, as you might expect, a new, revamped version of the hit show; it follows two children on an adventure in the Ruff Endz Estate, where they must collect various items from a host of familiar characters… with a twist. Spinderella longs to be a DJ, if she can only get away from her ugly sisters. Singer Lil Red gets tricked into signing with Wolf, who runs Big Teef Records. Rap-on-Zel is kept locked up by her father, the landlord of Beanstalk Towers. And then there’s Jaxx, who lives in the basement (get it?).

Into The Hoods: Remixed, ZooNation

As a company, ZooNation, led by director Kate Prince, aims to make hip hop accessible to a wider audience, and there’s no doubt from the enthusiastic crowd response that Into The Hoods does exactly that. Musical director DJ Walde’s soundtrack has something for everyone, covering decades and countless different styles; there’s even a Charleston segment at one point. Rewriting fairy tales for a new generation – the items the children are looking for include ‘an iPhone as white as milk and a hoodie as red as blood’ – the show skilfully intertwines them into a story that has romance, drama and plenty of humour (the retirement home routine is particularly brilliant) yet always remains completely family friendly. And the cast, who range in age from just 16 to 37, are not only incredibly talented, but have an irresistible energy that seems to have no limits. You get the feeling they could cheerfully go on all night – as could the audience.

There’s a fantastic family atmosphere up on stage; everyone gets their moment in the spotlight, and no one performer outshines anyone else. The ensemble numbers too are genuinely a joy to watch – there’s nothing better than sitting back and watching a company who work together so well. In the same way, the lighting, set and video backdrop all combine perfectly with the choreography to create a seamless, polished production that’s easy to follow and really great to look at.

I officially stand corrected; Into The Hoods is a fantastic show, whether or not you think of yourself as a hip hop fan. And ZooNation’s company ethos is also to be admired – they believe passionately in investing in young people, and run various projects specifically aimed at nurturing young talent. If the brilliant performers on stage tonight are anything to go by, they’re definitely doing something right.

Into The Hoods: Remixed is at the Orchard Theatre until 9th March.