| Dubai, United Arab Emirates

Kids theatre in Dubai

Award-winning stage director David Wood brings his show to Dubai

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Guess How Much I Love You opens in Dubai this month. Why did you choose to adapt it to stage?
It has all the right elements. There are animal characters, which young children always seem to prefer to people, then there’s the big and small scale. Children relate personally to the small hare, and the security of the bigger hare, a parent figure, makes them feel safe and comfortable. The natural setting appeals to them too, because there are all sorts of things you can explore within that.

You’ve made a 50 minute show out of a book that takes five minutes to read. How did you do that?
I actually created the show using all five books in the series, because there is character development throughout them all. They explore the different seasons and changes of nature, so the show is structured around that. As well as the hares in costume, there are puppets. We explore the caterpillar turning into a butterfly and the tadpole turning into a frog. I’ve also added a child narrator, who interacts with the hares and their stories but steps back too and becomes a narrator again. By the end of the show, night is falling and that’s where the actual Guess How Much I Love You story comes in.

Are children tough to entertain?
Yes, because they’re totally honest. If a show isn’t working, they’ll start wriggling about, asking to go to the lavatory and kicking the chair in front of them. Unlike adult audiences, they don’t tolerate boredom politely then clap at the end regardless. They will do their best to escape from the situation. So you have to make sure they are riveted, eyes glued to the stage at all times.

How do you do that?
I make sure there are lots of ‘suddenlys’. These are cues throughout the show that make children want to keep on watching, because they’re afraid they are going to miss something. A ‘suddenly’ could be anything from a lighting change to a new character, a song starting, or the beginning of a new adventure within the story. You have to keep things moving and include lots of action. The worst thing you can have for a children’s play is two characters just standing there talking.

Why kids’ theatre?
When I was a child, I was given a book on conjuring and magic. I loved it, and by the time I was 13, I was entertaining at children’s parties and actually getting paid for it. I didn’t know it at the time but that experience taught me exactly how children react en masse. I learned how to keep their attention and what really amuses them. Although I trained as an actor later on, I kept up the children’s theatre and, in 1967, was asked to write a Christmas play. The result was The Owl and the Pussycat, based on the poem by Edward Lear. It enjoyed great success and I never really looked back.

What inspires you?
Sheer panic! I always have a deadline to work to. When I wrote The Gingerbread Man in 1976, the producers called me demanding the title because they wanted to advertise the play on a carnival float, yet I had no title – and no play. I just closed my eyes and hoped for inspiration, and The Gingerbread Man popped into my head. I had to take things from there and, thankfully, the result – written in two weeks – worked out very well. Indeed, the play is still running and opened just recently at a theatre in California.

You’ve said you’d like all children to visit the theatre for free.
Yes, I would. But sadly it will never happen. Theatre is a wonderful trigger for the imagination and all children should be given the opportunity to experience it at least once when they are little. Theatre takes children away from the television and computers and allows them to have an entertaining, communal experience – something they don’t have much opportunity for these days. I believe exposure to all the arts and encouraging creativity is as important as nurturing their reading skills.

What’s next for you?
I’m currently directing a stage version of Shaun the Sheep.

But there’s no talking or singing in Shaun the Sheep…
Exactly! It’s a great challenge and terrific fun. I’ve never done anything like it before. We’re making it work through skilled dancers, music and choreography. All the dancers have full sheep headgear on for the whole play. The story is all about how the farmer watches [UK TV dance show] Strictly Come Dancing and decides to take up ballroom dancing, using Bitzer the dog as his partner. Naturally, the sheep get in on the act. At one point we have 11 sheep doing Riverdance… it’s certainly very different!

Guess How Much I Love You is showing at The First Group Theatre, Madinat Jumeirah on March 2 (9am, 10.15am, 11.30am), March 3 (9am, 10.15am, 4pm), March 4 (4pm, 5.30pm) and March 5 (11am, 3.30pm). Tickets cost Dhs120 for adults, Dhs95 for children (special offers for schools) from www.madinattheatre.com.

Time Out Dubai,

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