As a classic Roald Dahl tale is brought to life, we sit down with director Maria to talk about the pressure of living up to childhood imaginations
Q – You’re best known for your groundbreaking work directing Shakespeare, but now you’ve moved to children’s theatre. Why did you make the switch?
In many ways, it’s not that different. On a simple level, I think Shakespeare is also dynamic, visual and exciting in so many ways; he was inventive in terms of thinking and story.
As a director, my job is to find that and dig through the layers, but as a parent, I do think about the incredible responsibility that children’s theatre has, because you’re creating the audience of the future.
We need to give them something that will engage them, excite them, tickle their imagination and make them come back for more.
Roald Dahl’s works are childhood classics for so many people. How do you keep his imaginative tale alive but put your own spin on it?
Everyone has their own relationship with Roald Dahl. The responsibility is daunting, but it’s difficult to try and satisfy everyone’s imaginative reality of who [Mr Fox] is and what the story should look like, so it’s really about finding the spirit of the story.
Many of us read Fantastic Mr Fox when we were kids. How do you bridge the gap between parents and children?
We wanted to make this story for the five-year-olds of today, rather than the five-year-olds we were when we experienced it for the first time.
Children today grow up in a visual world with a language, tempo and context that are very different from the one we grew up in.
You have to honour that difference, celebrate it and incorporate it, otherwise you risk doing something that is nostalgic, rather than accessible.
If it’s inventive, fun and pure, then people will see that – and maybe then they can see past the fact that it might not look like what they imagined.
At the end of your stage adaptation there’s an added political twist. How do you broach the subject of politics to a young audience?
It’s politics with a small ‘p’. Young people need a language for considering the slightly bigger context, like thinking about the community and how your actions in the world affect those around you.
With a cast of larger-than-life creatures, which character do you most resonate with?
I think as much as I would like to be Rabbit – she’s very exciting and silly and wonderful and has lots of energy – I’m probably more Badger. He has to plan everything, he’s quite organised and he’s always herding people around.
So what can we expect when Fantastic Mr Fox comes to town?
It’s like an explosion of crazy, unexpected fun with a beautiful heart
at the centre of it.
WORDS Camille Hogg