Dr Heinrich Hoffman's horrific tales have been delighting and terrifying children for over 150 years. Now PHELIM McDERMOTT and JULIAN CROUCH have adapted them as a 'junk opera', which visits Glasgow this fortnight. You'll never want to suck your thumbs again. 3/0113: Catriona Craig
Kids on the skids: Tamsin Griffin (below) as the pyromaniac Harriet; and Anthony Cairns (top) as the soup-spurning Augustus
STORIES ABOL'T Tllli death and mutilation of innocent children may not seem an obvious choice for a night out for the whole family. But Improbable Theatre‘s new ‘junk opera’ .S'liut‘k/zt'mlml I’ln'r confounds expectations. Based on .S'truwiry/peter. a gruesome collection of stories written by Dr lleinrich l-loffman in 1844. the show is a haunting but wickedly funny extravaganza of puppetry. physical comedy. over—the-top storytelling and magical special effects. Sensitiver and wittin set to music by the defiantly peculiar cabaret outfit The Tiger Lillies. it will delight adults and psychologically robust children. .S‘lint'k/It’m/cr/ 1"It'r is the latest offering from the prolific creative partnership of Julian Crouch and Phelim McDermott. and comes to (ilasgow this fortnight with backing from Barclays Stage Partners. (‘rouch's back- ground is in puppetry and mask-making. and
McDermott is best known as a master
improviser with the (‘omedy Store Players. They ﬂout usual job categories of director and designer to work band-in-glove throughout the project. The result is a stunning set which seems more actor’s playground than stage. (‘rouch explains that the performers are given a lot of flexibility: last night was
10 THE lIST 30 Apr—14 May 1998
completely different to the night before and tonight will be different again. livery night Martyn [Jacques. the singer] comes on in different make-up. lt scares us. but that's good. Really. this is the embodiment of everything we believe in. The show has been able to reflect the atmosphere in the audiences.‘ Legend has it that lloffman wrote .S'rruii'u‘t’lpvlvr after a frustrating trip to a bookshop. He wanted a present for his three-
year-old son but could only find the kind of
smug. sentimental stories that any self- respecting child hates. Rather than waste his cash. the plucky Doctor wrote and illustrated a book himself. (‘rouch sees Hoffman’s stories as a satirical comment on the complacent trend for ‘cautionary tales‘. He points out that many of the children in the book do nothing worse than fail to eat soup (Augustus). gaze at the clouds (Johnny Head in Air) or wriggle in a chair (Fidgety Philip). Yet they all meet grisly ends.
Did (‘rouch or McDermott read the stories as children? Interestingly McDermott's first memory is not of the stories themselves. but of adults talking about them. ‘I think. like me. most people recognise the pictures. but don‘t remember reading the book.‘ he confesses.
‘Your memories are mainly of hearing your
parents talk about how scary it was. i find it's a weird communal memory.‘
A father of two. (‘roucb wishes more children would come and see it and suspects that our own attitude towards childhood may not be so different from that of the Victorians. ‘This piece is really needed now.” he argues. '11 is very rare that children are upset by it. it‘s the adults who worry. These stories are grisly for a reason. It actually gets irrational fears out your system. And we use puppets for the really horrible bits.‘
But they also emphasise that there is something for everyone. McDermott. still digesting last night‘s success. remembers a comment he overheard. ‘There was this big tattooed guy in the audience who was talking all the way throuin the show. At the end. when the big puppet comes out he went. ‘()h God — it's Roger Daltrey.‘
Shockheaded Peter is at Tramway, Glasgow, Tue 12-Sat 16 May. Struwwelpeter is published by Belitha Press at £9.99 (hardback).
‘These stories are grisly for a reason. It actually gets irrational fears out your system.’ Julian Crouch
By the snipping of my thumbs: Hoffman's original illustrations (right, top to bottom) - the man who shoots the hares, Shockheaded Peter and the dreaded Scissor Man