As part of Back to Ours festival, Shake Shake Theatre brings us The Story of Mr B, a puppet show for the whole family. As we turn from one page to the next, this grumbling character goes on a colourful and moving journey through the seasons, delighting audiences young and old with puppet performances, animated objects and shadow theatre.
With tenderness and humour, in this show the trees play, the sun swirls, mushrooms laugh and snow falls. Eventually Mr Bumblegrum realises he wants friendship again. It’s the creation of Shake Shake Theatre, made up of Jessica and Pierre. Here, Jessica tells us more about Mr B and his journey …
Tell us more about Shake Shake Theatre …
Both Pierre and I left our home countries to complete studies and work in theatre, we have each gained experience and insight into different theatre styles. Our motto is “made by hand and from the heart”. We want to create theatre, build stories and glue all the elements together with our own two hands.
We want to offer our work to audiences with a sense of pride and with the thought that we’re giving something meaningful, something from our hearts.
We really enjoy working with puppets and masks. They allow us to be very creative and they invite the audience to step into another universe and to believe in something they normally might not. That feeling when performing with a puppet, with the puppeteer in plain sight, and knowing that no-one is looking at you and everyone is with the puppet, that’s a very special feeling. We want to encourage people to be playful, to laugh and be silly and to try to understand one another better. Theatre is a wonderful way to do this.
Where did the idea for the character Mr B and the narrative for The Story Of Mr B come from?
The Story Of Mr B is the first puppet show we created. We met in 2013 and really appreciated each other’s work and experience in puppetry, so we decided to make a show together. We did a fun experiment, we each wrote down a title and one element to include in the story, we then swapped titles and each went away to write.
We both enjoy stories that show that there’s much more to the world than meets the eye. People are so intriguing and surprising. Even if someone seems grumpy and boring, you never know what beautiful stories they might be holding. Nature is easy to take for granted, it’s always just there, but in fact it’s alive, complex and surrounds us with beauty. The contrasts in this story between love and loss, grief and hope, and humour and sadness allows us to explore, play and tell a tale that can touch many people on different levels.
Who came up with the image for Mr B and the story book set?
We brainstormed everything together. We knew we wanted a set that could transform quickly and easily, and that could hold many little surprises for the audience. We researched other types of moving sets and toys, and eventually we came to pop-up books. We thought this idea suited the show as it was originally written as a story, not a script, we could keep an “old charm” aesthetic, and it would appeal to children and adults. We love the idea that we can be in a new place by simply turning a page.
Mr B and the other puppets were based on a style of puppet Pierre had made for a previous show. We both drew a lot of sketches for ideas, we looked at the materials we already had, Pierre made a miniature design for the set, and we re-used a lot of old materials, transforming them into props and puppets. This process helped us to be creative with what we already had.
Did you do any research into children’s stories and their narratives when writing this show?
We both talked a lot about different things that inspire us and we adore the films Mary & Max and Babe, the Roald Dahl stories and poems by Jacques Prevert. These artists beautifully show the light and dark life offers, with hope glimmering through.
Pierre comes from Switzerland, where we’ve been hiking a few times, and one day he told me that there are people who go around some of the forest hammering silver numbers on to all the trees. I found this quite hilarious and unbelievable, so this became Mr B’s job in the show!
Families walk away from the show talking about the colours of nature, the funny joy of romance, the sadness of death, the need for people to be open and trusting of one another, the importance of looking after nature.
How important is it to experience join Mr Bumblegrum’s journey through the seasons?
By connecting the cold winter and the disappearance of trees and birds with Mr B’s isolation and loneliness, we found that we could really show Mr B’s internal world linked to the seasons. This tie between humans and nature is unavoidable. We feel that nature is very alive, it is a friend and it helps us to feel better, healthier and happier.
What reactions do you get from children and their families watching the show?
So many … we love it! Some children sit in the audience quiet as a mouse, with inquisitive faces fixed on the set, following every move. Some children are not afraid to talk back to Mr B, he’s even gotten into trouble a couple of times for being a bit rude. Whatever their reactions, everyone in the audience comes together in the end to help Mr B and it’s a beautiful moment to share. Often, children come up after the show to say goodbye to us and Mr B, or to ask questions about how something worked during the show.
We’ve had feedback from adults and children who have laughed, cried, been surprised and inspired by this show. It’s very important to us that this show is accessible to all ages and can be understood on various levels. Families walk away from the show talking about the colours of nature, the funny joy of romance, the sadness of death, the need for people to be open and trusting of one another, the importance of looking after nature. We aim to invite everyone to leave the show with a warm heart and a smile.
Tickets for The Story of Mr B are available to book below from £2.50: