Designing the Jungle: Carl Davies talks us through his costume concepts

I caught up with Carl Davies, Jungle Book costume designer, to find out what he has in store for our upcoming Courtyard production…

Carl Davies with one of his favourite costumes for Jungle Book, Chil the Kite.

Carl Davies with one of his favourite costumes for Jungle Book, Chil the Kite.

“It’s quite fun to do the Jungle Book because you can do anything with it…. you don’t necessarily just dress them up as an animal, they’ve got their own individual characters which is quite nice…. for instance, Baloo the Bear is going to be a geography teacher in tweed.

“Most challenging costume is probably Mowgli. Mowgli, you’d almost imagine a loin cloth and nothing else but because it’s for the stage you have to… we’ve made it quite ‘patchworky’ and given him a top.

“I think my style is very layered…. especially with the Jungle Book, there’s a lot of fur, a lot of leather, a lot of layers, but it works because everything has to move in the right way.

“The main characters will stand out, they’ve each got their individual colours…. Chil the Kite is going to be an air hostess!”

Written by: Toki Allison, Deputy Marketing Manager


Jen’s Lens ~ Through the keyhole and into the archives…

It has been a while since I last posted, and that is purely because I have been far too busy digging through old sets, props and costumes at The Courtyard’s archive store.

My reason for attending the building unit of productions past was also to have a nose at how the set is shaping up for our current show, The Jungle Book.

Firstly though, back to the old.  Whilst our amazing set builder Carl Davies and Jules ploughed on with designing pollen stems and village huts, and Les and Jenks of technical fame got to grips with some tropical leaves, I decided to take a trip down memory lane and see some of the old fantastic costumes and set that have been saved from their last appearance on stage.

Walking in to the archive store I was met with lots of old set, including part of the ship from our most recent pantomime, Dick Whittington.  I also saw Aladdin’s treasure chest buried among many tiger suits, and trucks and wheels and houses and wings a plenty.

The next room I uncovered was the room of all things hats and wigs and faces.  Many model heads sat with tiara’s placed amongst a head of princess hair.  Stetsons were sandwiched between sequinned turbans and Caribbean hats made purely of fruit.  It really was fantastic to see.  I even managed to swipe a rat’s tail, worn by none other than the 2012 panto baddy, King Rat for our circus workshops over Easter.

The many hats of The Courtyard

The many hats of The Courtyard

Once I was done trying on top hats and cane’s I decided to make my way upstairs and well, I HIT THE MOTHERLOAD.  Yes I did.  Because my friends, I found all the old costumes from pantos been and gone, as well as old costume bits and bobs recovered from The Courtyard’s community producing days.  The rail that first caught my attention was the rail of old Dame’s outfits, because it is fair to say that these are really the most outrageous costumes ever worn on stage.  I mean, it is perfectly normal to wear a dragon on your shoulder, and to also go on stage resembling a giant Battenburg when you are a Dame.  And I have a photo to prove it!

A dragon shoulder pad for a Dame!

A dragon shoulder pad for a Dame!

I then found tonnes of mice outfits, mini matadors and lots of sparkly shiny princess dresses.  All of my childish inhibitions came out in a tour de force as I examined red velvet ballgowns and Jasmine’s sequinned midriff tops and baggy trousers and thought about

Costumes and sequins a plenty

Costumes and sequins a plenty

sneaking some in my handbag to take home for the odd occasion that after a bad day I may need to dress like Rapunzel and let my hair down.  But rest assured, I resisted.

In the other room I was dumbfounded by rails and rails of shoes.  Yes SHOES ladies, and not just ordinary shoes either.  Gold shoes, tap shoes. Sparkly sandals, ballet pumps.  It was pretty much a walk in wardrobe or every woman’s dreams, just with more jazz. The amount of stuff we have in the store is very astounding, and for myself, as Courtyard Youth Theatre alumni, it was great to feel nostalgic and encounter things that allowed me to hark back to the days where I trod the boards and see that while they are no longer on the stage, they are not forgotten.

But now I must return to the exciting world of what is to come, and that being…The Jungle Book!  Seeing the set was amazing, and I really started to feel the jungle vibes by looking at vibrant jungle flowers and the remains of old Indian temples with ornate patterns.  The lush greens stood out.  What fascinated me the most though, was how these crafted set designers could build an entire set from basic materials.  It is extremely authentic, down to the very last leaf, and I will be very excited to see this on the stage amongst the very talented casts of children this Easter.

The set mid creation

The set mid creation

Don’t forget, the Jungle Book runs from 10 – 13 April, with performance times of 2pm and 7pm.

Dashing through the Jungle: Diary of a (rogue) Director

Written by: Grant Brisland, Learning, Participation & Programming Manager

We’re coming very close to the production weeks now where the young people will start their intensive rehearsals, the set will be built and the final alterations to the costumes are done. The process in all takes about a year, once we have been able to agree a title, and the time has flown by. This is my third year in the producing seat for our Junior Youth Theatre production and the process is different every time. This year is particularly special and there haven’t been too many bumpy rides so far (famous last words?!).

Jungle Book rehearsals

Jungle Book rehearsals

I don’t often attend many rehearsals – I tend to dip in and out and mainly ensure that everyone is happy with how things are going. However, this year, whilst David was celebrating a good friend’s marriage, I was not only in the producing seat but the directing one too. For a director to hand over the reign, even for a day, is a difficult one. This is ultimately David’s (metaphorical) baby (his actual one is due during the run!) and it is my responsibility to ensure that this rehearsal is as productive as the previous weeks. After all, the young people only have 48 hours in the rehearsal room before we start the production week and there is a lot to learn in a very short space of time.

So, at 7am on Saturday 23 March when my alarm went off I jumped out of bed and eagerly awaited what the day had in store. Now, for anyone who knows me will know that this level of excitement and anticipation is not my regular response to having to get up early (yes, getting up at 7am is early!). However, I knew that I was going to enjoy getting to know our Youth Theatre members better as well as seeing their talents on display. At the end of an exhausting day with a wine in hand and some time for reflection it was clear that we have another great production on our hands. The commitment, passion, enthusiasm and drive shown to me from the young people throughout the whole day was extraordinary. This has only been mirrored by David and the rest of the production and creative team who are working tirelessly to ensure that The Jungle Book is a huge success.

Jungle Attack

Jungle Attack

The production and design team have been in situ (in a freezing cold warehouse at Rotherwas) for just over a week and the early results are very exciting. Working with Carl Davies, a friendship I forged on another Courtyard Youth Theatre production for Alice in Wonderland in 2005, has been a real pleasure. Originally from Herefordshire but now living in Sheffield, Carl is creating what looks to be our most colourful set to date and although this isn’t a blog entry to thank people I should also credit Richard, Adam, Jules and Les for their assistance in the first week too. Indeed, I even got my own hands dirty on Friday!

I also owe a huge thank you to our Assistant Director, Jack Spreckley, for his help throughout the rehearsal day on Saturday. Having come up through our Youth Theatre and taken on main roles in previous productions, it was great to see him in action with the young people. He has been a great asset to David throughout the whole production and I was very grateful for his support on the day. We’ll miss him later in the year when he goes to Camp America but know that we have trained him in good stead to carry The Courtyard flag on US grounds.

I just hope David likes the alterations I have made to his direction… Mwhahahahahaaaaa

Jen’s Lens – Time Out with Director of The Jungle Book, David Durant

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

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

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

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.

Jens Lens – The Jungle & the Community

This Easter, 200 children aged between 4 and 14 will take to the stage in a full scale, all singing, all dancing production of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. Youngsters from The Courtyard’s Youth Theatre will act out the parts of Baloo, Bagheera and Shere Khan, as we follow the story of Mowgli and his journey from boy to man through following the laws of the jungle.

Director David Durant instructs Mowgli and the wolves

Director David Durant instructs Mowgli and the wolves

Last Saturday I had the pleasure of watching this piece come to life, under the direction of Youth Theatre Director and Education Officer, David Durant, with attentive assistance from Helen Durant and youth theatre graduate, Jack Spreckley. It was brilliant to see the characters become animated, and not just through spoken lines, but also in their stage entrances and exits, body language and gait. It was clear that every individual in the production had thought about their animal, and how that animal would in turn speak, move and interact with other species as well as their own.

I also had the great advantage of sitting in for the blocking of the defeat of Shere Khan. I won’t give too much away, as this climactic moment is going to be a very exciting piece of theatre to watch. However I saw both boys work through the scene in slow motion, intertwining elements of dramatic irony, stage combat and tension in a gripping brawl! The convincing nature in which this scene was played out was in fact so realistic that I felt myself feeling rather jubilant and triumphant.

The monkey's give Mowgli a hard time!

The monkey’s give Mowgli a hard time!

I was also privy to watching some of the musical numbers from the show. I watched the Bandar-log (the mischievious monkey clan to those unfamiliar with Kipling’s version) jump on people’s backs, cajole and generally wreak havoc as they pulled up their hoods, rapped, and gave the jungle a healthy dose of attitude. The bears came on after and rehearsed their chorus number. One that was much more loyal, intellectual and virtuous as they sang about protection and the laws of the jungle.

Bagheera and Baloo salute the Laws of the Jungle

Bagheera and Baloo salute the Laws of the Jungle

After just one day in the rehearsal room, I now cannot actually wait to see the finished performance in April! With influences of Bollywood in the dance routines and exotic rhythms that channel India in the songs, this truly is a performance not to be missed.

Community Podcasts
To celebrate the wonderful Kipling story further, we have been asking people involved with the production and The Courtyard all over Herefordshire to record extracts from the novel which we have been launching as podcasts. To listen to some live readings of the novel, click on the link below:-

Jungle on the Road
If you fancy learning more about the Kipling novel, then join us this Easter as we hit the libraries of Herefordshire! On Tue 2 April we will be in Hereford, Wed 3 April we are in Leominster, on Thu 4 April we will be in Bromyard and on Fri 5 April we will finish off at Ross on Wye. Between the hours of 11 and 12pm we will be storytelling, doing animal themed acting games, learning Bollywood dance and partaking in some arts and crafts.

jungle roadshow

For more information on the roadshow and the activities, call us on 01432 340555.