Poetry in Motion: “Hunting of the Snark” Director Gemma Colclough
Gemma Colclough is the director of the latest stage adaptation of “The Hunting of the Snark,” based on Lewis Carroll’s poem of the same name. The show debuted at Edinburgh Fringe and is now making its way to Hong Kong in September.
Why did you choose “The Hunting of the Snark”? It was my favorite poem as a child. I have a very surrealistic sense of humor. My dad used to read it to me and he would adopt silly voices. When I got to creating a piece of children’s theater, it was a no-brainer. I knew “Snark” so well. I loved it as a child but as I grew up it took on a new meaning for me.
What were you aiming to do with this production? We saw lots of children’s theater around but none of it really catered to the whole family. We looked to try to create a show that was enjoyable for small children from a visual point of view; for older children from a story point of view; and for adults from a comedy point of view.
“The Hunting of the Snark” is quite complex on paper, and there’s not much of a storyline. How did you go about tackling the narrative? It’s based on the Lewis Carroll poem which is basically nonsense. It’s quite a popular piece of literature in the UK, but not a lot of people know it particularly well. We tried to simplify it by putting a modern slant on it, so now it’s a story about a father and son, the Baker and the Boy, who go to very strange lengths to find a Snark, and the adventure brings them together, with all these madcap characters around.
Ahead of the tour, have you been adapting the play to make it more accessible to international audiences? It’s brand new territory, but it should translate universally. A lot of it is very silly, with physical comedy. The narrative of each character is played very physically and musically, and it’s told in a colorful, bright, musical way. Stories about family, about a parent and a child, are something everyone can understand.
What do you think it is about Lewis Carroll that makes him so universally loved? Everybody knows the characters of the Jabberwocky or the Bandersnatch, but nobody knows what they look like or sound like, and I think that’s the power of Lewis Carroll. He ignites your imagination, and you’re totally free to imagine what these characters look like. What happens with Carroll is, whether you go to Snark Island or to Wonderland with Alice, you’re suddenly taken from this grey, smoky, downbeat world to a surreal, amazing, enchanted place. It’s that escapism, and it feels like that’s what everybody needs sometimes: a trip to Snark Island.
How close is the production to how you imagined “The Hunting of the Snark” to be? Half of it is exactly how I had imagined it, and the other half is completely different. The design is kind of steampunk and then it goes into this magical, colorful world. We started with the London skyline, dank and unimaginative, and then you get to sail off into this island of color and craziness. The main point of the design is that Snark Island is this otherworldly place. It’s not in space, not on the sea, just somewhere else. And we really wanted to take audiences on a journey to a different world.
It’s a touring production, so how much are you bringing with you? We’re bringing everything, and we’re so excited. It’s a really fun show. In trying to draw in the whole family, we’re delivering a really high quality piece of theater for everyone.