The Snow Beast from Scratchworks Theatre Company
by James McColl
Snow Beast Photo Credit Matt Austin
The Barbican Theatre is set to house Devon favourites, Scratchworks Theatre Company and their new show The Snow Beast this half-term week. The show, a captivating family friendly collision of storytelling, original score and live science experiments, aims to inspire young audiences and engage them in the beauty of the unknown and the magic of the everyday.
Set in the Scandinavian town of Seldomberg, where the Great Annual Science Fair is taking place, The Snow Beast follows Faina, a haphazard, eccentric scientist, who upon learning that her mother’s care home is about to close, enters the Fair to win the prize money and save it.
For Scratchworks, a four female company from Exeter, The Snow Beast will be the first collaboration with writer Jack Dean. Not only is this their biggest and most ambitious production to date but marries theatre with the magic of live science experiments. I had the chance to sit down with Alice Higginson and Sian Keen of Scratchworks to talk about the magic of science, their upcoming show and the South West theatre scene.
So, how did Scratchworks first get involved with The Snow Beast?
“The idea for the show came from a real enthusiasm to get children excited about science! People have commented on the fact that the show is for female scientists, we never usually make a thing of it being about woman but it is nice to be promoting or encouraging girls to get interested in science” says Sian. “Several of us have worked with kids in schools, science is a subject that they are so excited by but they don’t get the opportunity to really get stuck in and hands on with sometimes” adds Alice. “There’s so much stuff in your house that is science and that is magical. Bringing it into a theatrical environment, you get to see the magic of it and you get to see how it solves problems…I think that somehow setting it in a theatrical environment really brings out the magic and excitement of it all.”
Faina and Snow Beast Photo Credit Gemma Smith
Scratchworks Photo Credit Gemma Smith
How much support have you had from The Barbican Theatre?
“They’re the ones that originally approached us about creating a show when we were in Edinburgh in 2016. We really do love performing down here in Plymouth, and we’ve had lovely audiences for our previous two shows. It’s been good and it feels like we’ve been allowed to do our thing and then just call on them if we need any help” explains Sian. Alice adds that “there’s creative freedom but support there…and we’re in the theatre a whole week before our show which is brilliant because you don’t often get that. So we’re really lucky to have the time actually in the space to bed in and get used to how much space we’ve got”.
As your name suggests you make work from scratch, what has it been like to develop a show with a writer (Jack Dean)?
Sian answers “It’s been great. We approached Jack with the idea. We had already formed the essence of the show we wanted to make. We’d seen Jack’s show Granddad In The Machine which we would describe as a adult fairytale, we actually saw that here [at The Barbican] at Plymouth Fringe. We wanted to collaborate because his fantastical poetic style of writing, we felt, would combine really well with our physical style of storytelling. It was a really close collaboration and it’s something that he hadn’t done before either, I think he’s excited to carry on collaborating with other artists after this”.
Train Photo Credit Matt Austin
Scratchworks- Photo Credit Matt Austin
What science and live science experiments have you had to learn for The Snow Beast?
Sian laughs “oh, I’m not sure if we should tell you too many!” Alice elaborates, “we have gone back to our school days, the good old iodine and potato test that every year 7 has come across. There’s an element of that in this, but when we put them into the story there is an element of magic that goes with it. There’s also some really complex science, some proper physics that we tried to draw a diagram of and even we were like wow! This is complex! Hopefully the way that it is embedded in the story is just pure fun… we have a massive vortex gun that’s going to shoot people with air!” Sian excitedly adds “weirdly that the one that is hardest to explain the science of!”
Like many South West’s performers, Scratchworks has been supported by Exeter’s BikeShed Theatre which recently announced it closure. What do you think the state of the South West’s theatre scene will be once the BikeShed Theatre shuts?
Sian starts “it’s a real shame, we were really gutted when we heard the news. I feel like there is a bubbling passion in the South West to make new, interesting theatre with new theatre makers coming out of Plymouth, Bristol and Exeter and, even though the BikeShed is going, I feel like there’s the potential for something else to come up. People are passionate enough and driven enough that maybe something else will come out. I’m excited to see what that is. They’ve done really wonderful things and we wouldn’t be here without them, but something else will come along. Change happens.”
What do you think theatre lovers in the South West should be excited about?
Sian “I love making work in Exeter! We get companies like, In Bed With My Brother, came out of Exeter University and their show We Are Ian has completely taken Edinburgh and currently Australia by storm, they’re doing really well over there at the moment”. Alice adds “there is so much rich potential from all different types of theatre makers whether that be solo artists, companies or writers and even people who do cross genre things like Jack Dean, although he’s written a play with music, for us, his work is different. I personally, live most of the time in Kent and there is nothing like the network of theatres there is down here. If I wanted to go to the theatre I’d go into London where I’m either paying a lot to see something at the West End, The National or The Royal Court, but the theatre there isn’t made by small artists on a small budget”.
Sian adds “there’s an artistic community where everyone wants to help everyone out. The support we’ve had from other companies and artists in Plymouth and in Exeter and around these areas, they just want you to do well, and the feeling is reciprocated. We lend our stuff out to companies and go and support each other’s shows and give advice and let them look at funding applications. There’s a real network and family of artists here which I think is quite rare”.
Snow Beast Photo Credit Matt Austin
What are Scratchworks future plans and are you going to continue to do bigger scaled productions like The Snow Beast?
Sian starts “we have a lot of little things that are happening. We still love making little shows like Great Train Robbery, which is very stripped, back and minimal and we are looking to develop something later this year with a similar vibe. We’re looking at collaborating with some more artists as it’s been very successful for us and we feel that we learn through collaborating with others.”
Alice continues, “there’s a benefit to having two very different scale shows to tour. For example we have Nel, which is our bigger technical show, and then Great Train Robbery which is just a bucket of props. So we go to bigger venues with Nel and smaller town halls and schools with Great Train Robbery. So I think off the back of this, we’ll continue to showcase The Snow Beast and the massive scale that it is but also make another stripped back show, an in-the-bucket kind of show… that you can transport on the train haha”.
The Snow Beast runs from the 14th-17th of February at The Barbican Theatre, for tickets and show times visit The Barbican Theatre website