Is there a recipe for a creative young theatre company? According to Nicola Cutcher, one of the minds behind Dumbshow theatre company, it’s a brew of “a group of friends: a group of theatre makers” formed during the heady creative whirlwind that is university. Making a name for yourself as a young company and existing beyond the bubble of Warwick University is no easy feat, but Cutcher tells us how this group of 23- to 28-year-olds share a vision that makes their aim a simple one: to tell great stories.
Cutcher tells me one of Dumbshow’s real strengths is the mix of talent that the company has at its disposal, giving them the ability to push the boundaries. A fairly large company, featuring many different professions, means that Dumbshow’s performances are always visually stunning and artistically challenging. In the company there is a published children’s author, a musician, actors, directors, producers – and Artistic Director Michael Bryher has been Assistant Director to Peter Brook.
Dumbshow was born five years ago, and still holds on to the “love of life” that is the driving force behind many of today’s exciting young companies. Cutcher describes Dumbshow as “a company that likes taking on big ideas”; its vision is to tell stories that matter. When I ask Cutcher what she hopes for theatre in the future she replies: “theatre should be more challenging, it should be more politically engaged”. She wants to see theatre grow by bringing more people together, so it’s not surprising that Dumbshow runs education workshops and often holds question-and-answer sessions after performances, as it believes these are key to “engaging young people, families and the community with the power of stories”.
Clockheart Boy is a piece Dumbshow created back in 2007 whilst still studying at university. It tells the story of a professor whose daughter disappears. While he struggles with grief, he finds a young boy who has been washed ashore. He vows to bring the boy back to life – and does so by giving him a clock as a heart. The boy discovers the joys of life but comes to learn of the professor’s loss and the pain he endures. A challenging fairy tale that explores issues such as grief, loss and love – potent human experiences: “Clockheart Boy is as much Pixar as it is Tim Burton”. Dumbshow is exploring the gritty side of life without losing the youthful, magical joy that all fairytales possess.
Cutcher believes Clochheart Boy is able to “blend child-like charm with very adult themes and ideas” to form a fairytale that takes the audience on an emotional rollercoaster, a show that will make you “think, laugh and might make you cry… the best stories do mean things; they pull on your heart strings”. Dumbshow can not only grab your attention with its vibrant uses of colour and vast energy but also hold it with its ability to tackle life’s issues in a thought-provoking manner.
“It’s unique for us in how it really crosses generations, in a way that I don’t think our other work does as much,” Cutcher continues. All the family will be able to get something from this production; Cutcher is confident that no-one will leave the theatre without having their imagination blasted. Dumbshow is a company that loves to tell stories and its ensemble style helps to bring stories to life. The use of a chorus for example, playing the professor’s creations, allows the story to maintain energy and keep the audience on the edge of their seats throughout.
Dumbshow’s approach to storytelling hasn’t gone unnoticed. The company recently won Arts Council England funding for its tour of Clockheart Boy. Cutcher describes the moment she heard the news as “like Christmas morning… I screamed down the phone”. After fearing they may have lost their hearing, the other members of Dumbshow also shared their joy with a slightly more civilised celebratory drink. An achievement that signifies official recognition for Dumbshow’s hard work over the past five years, the funding has given the company a confidence boost that it is on the right track. Long may its clock tick and its heart beat.
Dumbshow is currently touring Clockheart Boy. For more information and to book tickets, visit http://www.dumbshow.org/shows/chb.
Image credit: Dumbshow