Grandpa in my Pocket is a successful TV sitcom show for children (BBC CBeebies), based on the time-honoured Tom Thumb idea that Jason’s Grandpa can shrink. Then all sorts of imaginative excitement and confusion ensue.
It has now arrived in the world of theatre and it isn’t exactly your usual “big kids brand does arena show” approach. Nottingham Playhouse has commissioned it. Due to open on July 13, it will play for a month at Nottingham and the plan is that it will tour next year. The director is Rosamunde Hutt and Kate Edgar is Musical Director.
Jan Page and Mellie Buse, who wrote and produced the TV version, have written the adaptation themselves. “We’ve workshopped it with Ros, the designer, the puppetry consultant and a group of actors which has made it a very collaborative and joyous,” Buse tells me.
So how do you go about taking a children’s TV sitcom that relies so much on special effects, animation and “television” magic, and move it to the stage, while retaining the storytelling strength, key themes, and charm of the original concept?
“Wherever an idea originated — whether that be in a book, on a TV programme, a film, or even a computer game, you shouldn’t set out to try to replicate the original on the stage,” says Buse. “If you simply try to lift a sitcom into a theatre it would offer the audience no more than the television show. In fact, it would offer less because it would be the same, but not the same. It would lack the magic of the original and give up no magic of its own.”
She continues: “A theatrical manifestation must give its audience something different. Every medium should do what that medium does best. That way you extend the creative experience for a child.”
So Buse and her colleagues began by looking at the key themes of the Grandpa concept — the playful Grandpa/Grandchild relationship. Their Grandpa-for-theatre is a “magic” character whose “shrinking cap” reduces him to the size of a coffee cup.
“The beauty of the theatre,” says Buse “is that it’s a place where the imagination knows no bounds. You can take an idea anywhere on the stage, whereas with a television sit-com you’re restricted to a few sets and locations. So a theatre show offers us the opportunity to tell a “Grandpa” story that we could never tell on television because of the constraints. The magic is still there, but it’s theatrical magic.”
That is why the whole of the stage show is set in the world of play and “let’s pretend.” It is intended to tap into the way children do role play. It uses an ensemble storytelling technique with song, dance, physicality, puppetry and real interaction with the audience, who are invited to help to tell the story.
“We hope children will go home fired up and act out their own Grandpa stories. We want them to be proactive. The television show is, after all, by dint of it being television, quite a passive experience,” says Buse.