You may not have heard of Big Squirrel Productions, but it certainly should be a name to look out for. I spoke with 19-year-old actress Kattreya Smith, who after finishing her first year of an acting degree at UCLAN is now playing a multitude of roles in the company’s quick witted play, A Middle Aged Man’s Uncertainty Theory.
Feeling rather uncertain myself, I had to ask the question on everyone’s lips: why is the company called Big Squirrel Productions? With a laugh Smith replies, “Well…” It was going to be good. She states rather sheepishly that “it’s a really simple answer actually: my father’s favourite word is squirrel.” And after a fair bit of thought I came round – ‘squirrel’ really is a good word.
Smith’s father, Stephen Scheurer-Smith, founded the company to perform his own play A Middle Aged Man’s Uncertainty Theory. He wanted a name with personality, a name with its own story, similar to the company’s first play, with its foundations in the family matter of Smith leaving for university.
The company are a close-knit group; they consist of three actors, one director/writer and, I quote, two “lovely little techies”. Without knowing much about Big Squirrel Productions, I already have a soft spot for them. Their aim as a group is simple: to entertain. They are focused though; to entertain is their title, but this piece includes many subtitles. Smith makes it clear that Big Squirrel Productions want to challenge their audience. She says A Middle Aged Man’s Uncertainty Theory “makes you question a lot. By the time you finish it there are so many thoughts you can question in your mind, it’s a very interesting piece.”
Big Squirrel Productions formed in January 2011 and are not only a young creation but also young at heart, with two actors still at university. With this in mind it isn’t surprising that Big Squirrel see the Fringe as a vital tool for sparking interest in theatre, especially in the younger generations. Smith has only praise for the unique environment the Fringe boasts: “you are open to so many different types of theatre that you wouldn’t normally come across, it makes you so much more open to the world”. It seems fitting that a company who desire to captivate the minds of their audience will be at a festival known to many as the birthplace of their first real love for theatre.
Big Squirrel’s debut play, A Middle Aged Man’s Uncertainty Theory, was heavily influenced by Smith leaving home for university. She describes it as “semi autobiographical” with the main male character, played by Tim Boden, expressing many of the emotions Smith’s father was experiencing at that time. The play is brimming with real life emotions that affected the company members personally. This has led to a play uniquely personal to its performers, but also hugely accessible to its audience who can relate to the core feeling of uncertainty, which affects us all. A Middle Aged Man’s Uncertainty Theory relishes in taking real life experiences to fuel the copious questions and topics thrown at their audience in this fast paced comedy-cum-drama.
The company workshopped scenes to create the meat of the play around the bare bones of initial script blocks. Although Big Squirrel want the audience to leave the theatre challenged and amused, they see it important to not lose the pathos in the turbulent pace of the play’s wit. Smith describes how main actor Boden was originally meant to be a book shop owner, however, after brainstorm sessions the company came to the conclusion that Boden’s experiences as a taxi driver were too good to pass off. Consequently, Boden’s character became a taxi driver and some of the customers he comes in contact with are inspired by his own acquaintances. A Middle Aged Man’s Uncertainty Theory’s ability to maintain a raw honesty achieved by drawing on the actors lives is refreshing and heartwarming.
With so many shows hitting the Edinburgh Fringe it can seem like an impossible task for a company to stand out in the flurry of theatrical wonders. Smith, however, isn’t daunted by the task – if anything she is bursting to go, leaflets in hand. When I rather nervously asked if she was excited about performing at the Fringe, knowing the inevitable answer that followed, Smith didn’t disappoint, bursting out: “Oh definitely, the fact that we’ve been able to go up to the Fringe with our own production is a huge deal.” Smith’s enthusiasm about A Middle Aged Man’s Uncertainty Theory and her small company’s achievements in such a short space of time are what makes this play stand out. They boast a subtle mix of serious drama, tackling uncertainty, and wit. Big Squirrel never gets bogged down with the array of topics raised; there is sure to be a laugh within spitting distance. Smith believes the play’s fast pace allows so much to be brought to the table – only on your journey home will you realise you have been hit by a theatrical tornado. Inspired by life’s uncertainty and the shadow of university, this quick witted, questioning piece sounds just like what the doctor ordered.
The play is relevant to not only students but also families in general; Big Squirrel Productions are making people aware of the uncertainty of life. The only thing you can be certain of is a laugh; this company are throwing the sink, bathtub, and tap to make sure you leave the theatre tickled and uncertain. Smith would love every member of the audience to go away pondering on a different subject. This piece, she says, “includes a lot of personality – just like at university, you are thrown in to a whole new world”. My conclusion is that it would be a miracle if your mind was able to survive unscathed = the questions come thick and fast, and the wit even faster.
Image credit: Big Squirrel Productions