Matthew Woodford is founder of theatre company Intrepid Ensemble. Here he chats to us about new project Jellyfish, which can be seen for the first time at Mini VAULT Festival.
Tell us about Jellyfish.
Jellyfish is a vivid and dreamlike portrait of the bond between a mother, a son and a jellyfish. The show is for children, young people and adults with big imaginations – about motherhood and mental health.
After a difficult year Tom and his Mum move house, but it soon becomes clear that they’re sharing their new home with a stranger, a gigantic glowing jellyfish. When their extraordinary house guest begins to grow more and more troublesome, and with Tom’s Mum continuing to ignore it, Tom tries everything he can to rid them of this burdensome beast.. Scaring it, trapping it, tricking it – nothing seems to work. Can Tom and his Mum learn to live with the animal in their attic?
What inspired you to create the show?
In the show, the jellyfish is a metaphor for the parent’s clinical depression. We know that using metaphor and symbol can help children understand complex subjects, and we wanted to find a way in to the subject which was accessible for young audiences. Yes, we want to tackle the theme in a serious way – but we also want to keep a strong sense of fun and adventure – and a huge puppet jellyfish seemed like a great way to go about this!
Jellyfish deals with quite serious themes – how did you produce a piece that “sensitively and compassionately explores mental health”? What would you say to people who think these topics are unsuitable for young people?
There is still so much stigma around mental health, and although we are moving in the right direction, there is still much more work to be done. That stigma won’t disappear until we talk openly and honestly about the subject. Between 50-60% of parents with an enduring mental illness live with a child under the age of 18 – so why aren’t families talking about this?
Is Jellyfish typical of the type of work Intrepid Ensemble creates?
Typically we have created work with young people – this will be our first major production for families and young audiences. Over the years we built up a pretty good idea about what entertains and excites young people – so thought we would put all that knowledge into a show working with professional actors. We’re got a fantastic creative team of performers, designers, makers and a composer who is making us a beautiful original score.
What are you working on next?
This is stage one of Jellyfish – the plan is to take it to Edinburgh this year for the Fringe, then hopefully a tour next year. Watch this space!
And finally, the question we ask everyone: why do you love children’s theatre?
We believe that children, young people and adults benefit from sharing theatre experiences together. Children’s theatre is at it’s best when the whole family can take something from it, and it can change their perspectives on the world and spark conversations. That’s why we go and see children’s theatre – and that’s why we make it!