Inspiring confidence and self-belief in children through performance is a notion close to the heart of The Courtyard’s Youth Theatre Director and Education Officer, David Durant.
Jungle Book Director, David Durant
Currently directing 200 children from the ages of 4 to 14, David hopes that this Easter’s performance of ‘The Jungle Book’, will be an experience that the children can hold as a lifelong memory.
The Courtyard has chosen a stage adaptation from the Rudyard Kipling novel as their April show for the younger members of their youth theatre. A fitting text in that the many parts and aspects of the story give every child a role in the play, and allow them to develop their journey through performance along with the journey of the story’s protagonist, Mowgli. From a narrative point of view, the story deals with the journey and self discovery of man, through socialisation, friendships and challenges, a theme most of us, children and grown up’s alike can relate to. Particularly “from a directing point of view”, says David, “the text is very exciting as there is lots I can do to develop characters, such as Kaa the Snake and Bagheera the Panther, the way all the characters interact with each other and impact the story”.
When quizzed about the challenges of adapting novel to stage, David admits the first challenge is that despite the text being well known, many people’s first involvement with the story comes from Walt Disney’s 1967 animated adaptation; a tale better known for a swinging Orang-utan and catchy songs. “It is surprising how different the book is from Disney” he says, “as the Disney story finishes with the defeat of Shere Khan, whereas that is in fact only half of the story. The original novel even goes on to deal with Mowgli’s journey into manhood and his need to be reunited with the world of man; to not only be Lord of the Jungle but also Lord of Man”. The beauty of the text however lies in its adaptability, and this is something that gives an inspiring amount of creative vision to someone like David, who is excited to put his own stamp on the much loved classic. One difference from page to screen he has observed is the “ambiguous” personality put against Kaa the Snake. The book portrays the serpent as a protector and a friend, whereas Disney paints him as a poisonous villain. David’s portrayal of Kaa sees them “flit between the two. So in one sense we see him as the powerful protector that rescues Mowgli, and then he goes after the monkeys. So you never really know if he is good or bad.”
Not only does working on characterisation aim to keep the production team on their toes, but so does the amount of children involved in the production. With two casts of over a hundred students each performing over 4 nights, David praises the “kind parents who chaperone” and the great helpers and assistant directors (some of whom are his previous youth theatre members) that keep the children engaged with the production by working through elements of the show in small groups. This dedication is integral to David who says passionately that he “really believes in the power of theatre to enrich the lives of children”. He recognises the endless benefits that young people’s involvement with theatre has. “The obvious one is confidence”, he states “because they realise they are good at something. And that sense of achievement, leads to them believing they can achieve in other areas too.” David understands the impact theatrical involvement can have on a child’s maturity and hopes that the work put in to productions like The Jungle Book will be a “memory they can take with them throughout life, and continuously use a reference point when faced with difficult challenges and obstacles.”
Making this particular performance more memorable, are a few unusual and exotic thematic elements, which help identify this performance as original to The Courtyard. “Without giving too much away”, says David “the theme of this performance is all about the Jungle coming out to the audience”. He clarifies that during the performance you will not find a monkey in your lap, but instead the building and auditorium will feel immersed within the vibes of the Jungle. The locality of the story provides more exoticism in that the production focuses on “delving deep in to the Indian culture, which is rooted in the story.” The aim is to flavour the production elements with traditional Indian dancing and Bollywood influences. “Letting audience members look through this window into India,” as David describes it.
These foreign elements all develop from ideas to practice through the collaborative process of David, as Director, working with a creative team. “It is really exciting”, he effuses “as it not only means working with creative people, but it allows you to share an idea and let someone else run with that, and put their own twist on it.” Sarah Jane Matthews, of the Hereford Academy of Dance is choreographer for the production, and Rab Handleigh (of Feral productions and various pantomimes) will be resuming his seat in the orchestra pit as Musical Director. “It’s like doing a massive painting and giving everyone a paintbrush, and saying, let’s have some fun here!” David laughs.
David’s teaching and work with young people, both past and present, goes beyond a love of drama and a love of producing, but is also about “giving them opportunities, that I wish I’d had,” he says. So much so, that he has been involved with youth performance for a number of years, and picking a favourite moment becomes tricky. “There have been so many highlights for me”, he adds, “certainly working at The Courtyard is one of them, but before I came to Hereford I worked on a project called Shank in Croydon.” David explains this was a collaborative piece between the Youth Theatre in South Croydon and the BBC, on knife crime. “Many of the people involved”, he explains “had had a personal involvement with knife crime, and had some fascinating and heartbreaking stories. It felt really important to show people just how precious life is.” This project was both poignant and inspiring to David, and was responsible for kick starting his passion for working with young people. Another high point he lists is directing The Courtyard’s Lion, Witch and The Wardrobe production in 2011, a production that also involved a large number of youth theatre pupils, and that previous experience is why he is thrilled to be doing something on a similar scale with The Jungle Book.
“The Jungle Book is so important in offering the young people of Herefordshire a platform, so community support for productions like this is vital”, says David, “as we are not just trying to build an audience for this particular production, but are opening doors for future generations.” And David Durant is already looking to the future, as he directs the Senior Youth Theatre in a modern take on William Shakespeare’s ‘The Comedy of Errors’ this summer. The play, he explains, will focus very heavily on our superficial understandings of identity, how well we actually know others and ourselves, along with a heavy dose of farce. David is also particularly delighted to be directing the Courtyard’s first fully professionally produced piece (excluding Pantomime) since 2006, Jason and the Argonauts, which will launch later in the Autumn and then tour nationally.
“At the end of the day these shows all come down to these young people,” David concludes, “and I hope that continued support for these shows means that the Courtyard can continue to put on productions with young people for years to come.”
The Jungle Book is on at The Courtyard from Weds 10 – Sat 13 April, and has performance times of 2pm and 7pm. To book tickets, or for more information on The Courtyard’s Youth Theatre call 01432 340555, or visit the website at http://www.courtyard.org.uk.
Interviewed and written up by Jennifer Booton, Press & Marketing Officer at The Courtyard.
5 Questions with Mowgli, played by Nick Lane
Nick Lane as Mowgli in rehearsals
What are you most looking forwards to in the Jungle Book?
I am looking forward to working in a team with my friends and gaining experience from the talented professionals.
Why is playing the hero and the main character so good?
It’s good because it’s fun and exciting. One of the best aspects about Mowgli is that his character changes in a split second. One second he is raging mad and the next he is sad and solemn. This gives me the opportunity to perform both characters of the acting coin.
What tricks do you use to get into character? And what is your character about?
I personally stop what I’m doing and focus on my character. I think of every aspect and try to mirror them, and eventually I feel that I am that character.
There are a lot of children involved in this performance. What is so good about working in a large team?
Working with a large team is great because it develops my confidence and allows some of the older members of the cast to help the little ones. Also the end result is always better to share with others when you have a bigger cast.
What do you like the most about being part of The Courtyard’s Youth Theatre?
Firstly the friends you make being part of youth theatre. I personally really look forward to the youth theatre because of the experience and fun I have when I’m there. Secondly, when I was in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, I looked up to the main parts as inspiration and I think that every child should be able to look up to someone and then realise one day someone is looking up to you.