Interview with Natasha Holmes, Artistic Director of Tell Tale Hearts

By December 5, 2015

Theatre & Dance. Leeds.

feather and snow

All photos credited to Gavin Joynt

Everyone knows the story of Snow White. The girl with snow white skin so detested by her wicked step-mother that she is banished into the woods where she meets seven miners who have missed the Barnsley Seam and mined their way into Huddersfield… hold on.

The Lawrence Batley Theatre’s winter production, a collaboration between theatre companies Tell Tale Hearts and Pif Paf, promises an entirely new take on Snow White, one with a decidedly Yorkshire feel.

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‘It’s a Yorkshire backdrop and it’s kind of post-industrial with the moors and the pit closures,’ says Tell Tale Hearts artistic director Natasha Holmes, ‘but it’s got that fairy-tale quality to it. We’ve not stuffed it with social media references and cheap gags. The world we’ve created is a bit more magical and timeless. Well… perhaps a couple of the gags are cheap.’

This re-telling eschews the traditional poison apple approach and instead sees Snow White trapped in the magic mirror by her jealous step-mother, singing diva Mystic Stardust, meaning a brass band of seven ex-miners must throw down their instruments to free her from the mirror. If this sounds like loose reinterpretation, it’s important to know who came up with the story.

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‘We went to a school near us in Kirklees to workshop some story ideas with the Year Four children,’ explains Natasha, ‘For example, the idea of the ex-miners community taking in Snow White and having her trapped in the mirror came from the children.’

For theatre company Tell Tale Hearts, having the input of the intended audience, the children, is an essential part of every play’s development. ‘We had a test audience and it was interesting seeing what the children understood that the adults didn’t,’ says Natasha. ‘We have a sequence with black and white shadow puppetry and the adults were saying ‘That was beautiful, but we didn’t understand what was happening’, while the children were piping in ‘It’s a flashback!’’.

This “visual language”, as Natasha calls it, is what brought the two theatre companies together to create their take on the Brothers Grimm classic. Pif Paf, a Sheffield-based theatre company, specialises in outdoor acrobatic work using huge mechanical structures, something that will feature in Snow White.

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‘I think they wanted the challenge of taking their work indoors,’ says Natasha, ‘They do aerial feats off these amazing structures, so we wanted to bring that into the story of Snow White. Having a mineshaft and a pithead seemed a brilliant excuse to hang off it.’

In addition to theatrical engineering and vertigo-inducing feats, Snow White will feature live music, though Natasha is keen to press that it’s not a musical. ‘It’s really hard, because it’s right on the cusp. It’s not a pantomime or a musical – it’s a Christmas show with music. Our miners are part of a band called the Coal-Faced Crocodiles, which is inspired by the mining communities and the brass bands that emerged from the collieries, but with a jazzy, New Orleany twist that I think adult audience members will love.’

Appealing to audiences of all ages was essential for Natasha and co-creator Eleanor Hooper. ‘I think good children’s theatre should be equally rewarding for adults and children and, if it is, you’ve done your job well. If it’s just for the children, then perhaps you’ve missed your mark.’ While this version of Snow White may not be necessarily traditional, Natasha insists it will have universal appeal. ‘It will still have the humour, it will still have the Christmas sparkle and great spectacle. Hopefully we’ll deliver something really thrilling for the whole family.’

Snow White will be playing Friday 11 – Sunday 27 December at the Lawrence Batley Theatre in Huddersfield. Tickets are available here.