Whether it’s the first ice cream or whipping out brand new sun block, we know summer has arrived in full British force when the Edinburgh Fringe begins. Every year there is a flurry of new writing, especially as eager students showcase their talent and hard work in preparation for the festival. Amongst the innovative physical theatre, contemporary dance, comedy and adaptations of classical plays, there’s room for something a “little magical”. Enter Paper Crane Theatre and their show Ronnie and the Other World.
Based on the myth of Orpheus and the Underworld, Ronnie, a puppet, wakes up one day in our world, having accidentally escaped from the fictional world of Happydale. He learns that this world, his friends and everything he’s ever known, including his beloved girlfriend Sally, is about to be cancelled. This leads him on a quest to rescue Happydale and everyone in it. Beth Crane, writer and director of Ronnie and the Other World as well as Artistic Director of the company, is a UEA graduate in Drama and Scriptwriting and has returned to Norwich for a Masters in Creative Writing. She “always loved writing and been involved in drama in various forms from a young age.” The dream started early for Crane but she “only really started writing scripts seriously in my final few years of school and it was only until my second year of university that I started to write them well!”
Raised on books and Greek myths, Crane describes her writing style as “referential, dark and a little bizarre”. The Greek myths have really influenced her work and she tries to reference other work in a way that is thoughtful and brings a new approach to the text. Classical references aside, she “loves to write things that are purely daft and farcical”, noting that one of her favourite pieces Upholstery is about a man who is in love with a sofa. Amidst the weird and wonderful, Crane spotted a niche in the market and “began a class at the Norwich Puppet Theatre in 2009, which is where the passion started”. Since then she has been making and working with puppets constantly. So what’s so special about puppets? Why not use a human cast? Crane comments she is fascinated with “the things you can do with puppets that would be impossible with a human cast. With a minimal cast you can have a wide range of characters”.
Crane also has a long-term love for the festival. Having attended the fringe almost every year since 2007 and being a former member of the Village Idiots Masked Theatre Company with two sell-out runs, she is passionate that the Fringe will offer the platform the company has been looking for. Paper Crane Theatre formed at the end of 2011, when Crane used Ronnie and The Other World as her final project. The company, made up of students from UEA, set its sights on the Fringe. “There’s something more jovial about a festival audience – they’re at the festival to see shows and I think they’re more willing to laugh. The whole festival causes that kind of atmosphere.” Fiercely ambitious, Paper Crane sees the festival as “a great showcase, a great atmosphere and a fantastic experience as a performers and writers”. Crane herself is hoping that Ronnie will begin touring after September and the Fringe is certainly a good starting point.
With academic success behind her and a passion for the arts, the rehearsal process has been a real journey for Crane and her cast. Crane made sure to have the puppets at the start of the rehearsal process, having to manage exams, other shows and part-time jobs around the schedule. “Giving the puppets to the actors to work on at home is really important to allow time to get to know the puppet. Freelance director, Ant Cule, runs a really helpful workshop on bringing puppets to life, allowing them to breathe and react as living beings. I have worked with several of my puppeteers before, either on the original Ronnie or on smaller shows since then, so most of them had the rudimentary skills before we began. Our vocal coach, Eleanor Mansfield, is also key in creating the different registers for each puppet. With seven actors portraying more than 21 characters, the differences in voices between each puppet are incredibly important.”
Clearly, Crane understands the intensely competitive industry of the theatrical world. But she’s determined to commit to Paper Crane Theatre rather than juggling it with part-time jobs. She advises, “Don’t be afraid to get the day job!” She believes the most important thing is to keep writing, creating and living theatre: “it takes a long time but it’s worth it.” And never underestimate puppets. They can be more than just farce; they can make you think as well as laugh.
Paper Crane Theatre perform at 2.30pm at the Quaker Meeting House daily until 18 August. For tickets or more information, visit www.edfringe.com or www.papercranepuppetcompany.com. You can also follow the company on twitter @PaperCraneCo or visit their Facebook page: Facebook page.
Image credit: Paper Crane Theatre