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Whale of a tale plays out at children's festival

The Snail and the Whale adapted from children's book

By: Anna Borowiecki

  |  Posted: Saturday, May 17, 2014 06:00 am

WHALE-WIDE TRAVELS – Snail and the Whale tells the story of a snail that catches a ride on a whale's tail in order to see the world.
WHALE-WIDE TRAVELS – Snail and the Whale tells the story of a snail that catches a ride on a whale's tail in order to see the world.
Supplied photo

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Preview

The Snail and the Whale
Tall Stories Theatre
Northern Alberta International Children’s Festival
May 27 to 31
Save-On Foods Stage (Arden Theatre)
5 St. Anne St.
Tickets: $10. Call 780-459-1542 or purchase online at ticketmaster.ca

Everyone loves a mesmerizing yarn, and children’s stories seem to get more and more creative by the year.

The British-based touring company Tall Stories Theatre is literally bringing a whale of tale to the Northern Alberta International Children’s Festival running May 27 to 31 in downtown St. Albert.

Tall Stories brings theatrical imagination to the picture book The Snail and the Whale, by writer Julia Donaldson and illustrator Axel Scheffler. In this short narrative, a snail hitches a ride on a whale’s tail.

“The snail wants to see the world but he’s stuck on a rock. Whale invites him to get on his tail and together they see volcanoes, icebergs and caves. In the climax the whale gets beached and confused and the snail finds a way to save it,” said Patrick Bridgman, one of the show’s three performers.

In creating this production, a major challenge was turning a short picture book into a 45-minute production.

Tall Stories likes to devise its productions by bringing actors into a room and playing with ideas tossed into the creative mosh pit. If a show is successful, it is toured extensively with different casts.

For The Snail and the Whale, the company borrowed a page from Storybook Soldiers, a scheme run by volunteers for the British army community. Storybook Soldiers allows soldiers to record bedtime stories, to which music and sound effects are added, for their children to listen to while they are deployed.

At the onset of the theatrical version, Tall Stories added a segment about a sailor about to be shipped off for another tour at sea who records his daughter’s favourite story so she won’t miss him while he’s away.

“Adding this was a risky thing. It was trepidatious, but in adding this thing, she (Donaldson) was very moved by the idea and that it worked,” Bridgman said.

The bond between father (Bridgman) and daughter (Rhiannon Wallace) is beautifully scripted and the show is given an added emotional resonance by Rosalyn Steele’s musical accompaniment on the viola. Steele is also the narrator, an older version of the daughter looking back at her childhood.

Founded in 1997 by Olivia Jacobs and Toby Mitchell, Tall Stories delivers a unique brand of physical comedy that has received standing ovations across Europe, Asia and North America.

Its earliest success was based on The Gruffalo picture book series, another Donaldson-Scheffler collaboration about a mouse that meets a litany of scary animals.

“Toby had another job to pay the rent. He worked at Macmillan Publishing. Toby saw the book and thought it would make a good show to adapt. It was particularly successful in Britain and Europe and became a publishing phenomenon.”

Today Tall Tales is a registered charity that tours the world entertaining with a blend of storytelling, music and lots of energy.

“We always strive to stimulate children’s imaginations,” Bridgman said. “It’s quite a low-tech show. The sets are simple. They have to be and the actors throw themselves physically into the show. There’s puppetry, miming and animating objects. There is always music and clever acting. There are a great many laughs, it’s thrilling and it’s a touching story.”


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