See a race that’ll be both fast and slow

Director Wendy Harris  in rehearsals for  tutti frutti's production of Hare and Tortoise at the Crucible Studio, Dec 14, 2011, to Jan 7, 2012
Director Wendy Harris in rehearsals for tutti frutti's production of Hare and Tortoise at the Crucible Studio, Dec 14, 2011, to Jan 7, 2012

ROLL up to the Crucible Studio for the greatest race on earth this Christmas as children’s theatre company tutti frutti bring to town a new version of Aesop’s fable, Hare and Tortoise.

The much-loved story of the two competing friends is told through the interaction of the characters, live music and physical action and explores the notion of opposites, time and friendship.

A co-production with York Theatre Royal, Hare and Tortoise has been touring through the year but is ideal for Christmas, says tutti frutti artistic director Wendy Harris.

“The story travels through the seasons starting and ending with winter. So it ends with a nice snug wintry setting and a song saying we are all prepared for winter hibernation.

“It’s a show that is aimed at ages three to seven – Aesop’s Fables are on the Key Stage 1 curriculum – but it works well with children as young as two and older ones.

“And mums and dads and carers have something to take their children to which they themselves can enjoy.

“There are things in the story the children will relate to. One of the themes is opposites and that’s reflected in the two characters apart – not just fast and slow – male/female, tall/short, tidy/untidy.

“What young children will especially relate to is Hare, who wants everything now like a child who can’t wait for Christmas Day. He has to learn to wait for the race to start. Tortoise teaches him how.”

The writer of Hare and Tortoise is Brendan Murray whom the director has known since they were at the Crucible together in 1989.

“He was writer-in-residence and I was on an Arts Council director’s bursary,” explains Harris, who has vivid memories of her time in Sheffield.

“I worked with Phil Clark on the late Noel Greig’s play about about Aids, Plague of Innocence, which was pretty cutting edge at the time.

“I assisted Clare Venables on her production of Little Women which was also controversial in its way. We also put on Mike Kenny’s first play, The Lost Child.”

Kenny was listed among the UK’s top ten playwrights after his much-lauded adaptation of The Railway Children which started in York and has gone on to a huge success in London and Clark continues to direct great children’s theatre with the Birmingham Stage Company. Add writer Brendan Murray and you have a remarkable group who have all continued to work for young people.

This year Harris has been involved in a new writers project, First Word, which has recently done work at a number of regional theatres including the Crucible and the Everyman in Liverpool which is where she started.

“First Word is about finding the next Mike Kenny or Brendan Murray and helping young writers learn about collaboration for example,” says the director who has been with Leeds-based tutti frutti for the past five years. The company created last year’s Crucible Studio Christmas show, Whatever Next!

That, of course, has turned out to be Hare and Tortoise which runs until January 7.