Theatre: Tap-Tap tapping away

Steve Wright, October 3, 2014

Tap Tap Theatre’s Handmade Tales is five original stories in one all-ages show. Steve Wright finds out more

“We thought hard about re-creating stories that we knew and loved, but we realised that it made much more sense to make up our own.” This is Tash Dummelow, co-founder of Bristol’s much-admired Tap Tap Theatre, explaining the origins of the company’s newest show Handmade Tales, which looks in at Kingsdown’s Wardrobe Theatre at the end of this month. 

Tap Tap’s devised, all-ages show presents five original stories, performed by a handful of talented performers. And, as Tash explains, the company decided early on to compose their own tales, rather than borrowing from the canon of world storytelling. “We wanted to surprise audiences and overturn expectations. We also want to encourage audiences to pick up a pen and start creating their own stories, so we knew that we had to lead by example. What’s more, making up five brand new stories was ridiculously good fun.”

Inspirations, in fact, were wide-ranging. “Some of the stories pay homage to traditional fairy tales, others to more modern tales like Dr Seuss and Roald Dahl, and others still just seemed to come from our own imaginations,” Tash explains. “We read a lot of children’s books before we started devising, to try and get back into that childlike mindset of discovery.” The show has certainly pleased the critics: “I really cannot get over how good this was,” said Edinburgh Fringe Review’s five-star verdict.

Tash believes that the basics of engaging storytelling – for whatever age – are simple. “The most important thing is character, and every story in Handmade Tales started with a great central protagonist. This character must also be missing something, something that drives them, and audiences, through the story. There’s got to be something at stake – otherwise, what’s the point?

“A story should also be playful, full of light and shade, hilarious and moving moments. And a really good baddie is essential. Whether it’s a person or some other force, something that obstructs the hero’s quest is hugely important. We’ve got proper baddies, plus nightmares, sibling rivalries, mischievous signposts and all sorts of obstacles.”

Tash and her colleague Miriam Battye co-founded the company while students at Bristol University. “We had met so many brilliant performers, theatre-makers and musicians while at uni, and we wanted to bring people together to make unique, engaging, professional-standard theatre,” Tash explains. “We soon realised that there was a particular style of theatre we loved making: playful, physical, imaginative theatre for audiences of all ages. Our shows are energetic and original, with live music that can pop up anywhere.”

In their two-year life to date, Tap Tap have already found themselves on stage at London’s Arcola Theatre and Lyric Hammersmith (where they are benefitting from the theatre’s Emerging Artists scheme), as well as Edinburgh Fringe’s Udderbelly and the Latitude Festival. They are, in short, on their way up. 

And how do they rate Bristol as a place to live and to make theatre? “We made the show here and, although we’ve been lucky enough to tour it around the country, we’re so excited to be bringing it back home. Bristol is such a creative place, and it really seems to champion theatre-makers, which is refreshing. London can seem a place of infinite opportunity, but making great work in the regions is massively important. There’s so much arts activity in Bristol, with such great venues, festivals and producing organisations – and we are delighted to be a small part of it.”

Handmade Tales Monday, October 27 to Saturday, November 1, Wardrobe Theatre, above the White Bear pub, Kingsdown, Bristol. 0117 902 0344 / www.thewardrobetheatre.com

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