Theatre by the Lake stage set for fireworks

Theatre by the Lake stage set for fireworks


Theatre by the Lake is relishing some of the most exciting challenges in its 12-year history as it begins work on its Christmas 2011 production of The Firework-Maker’s Daughter, a play based on an inspiring and exotic story by Philip Pullman, author of the His Dark Materials trilogy.

The play makes few concessions in its design demands. “It’s one of those scripts where you turn the page and go ‘Oh my God’, said Martin Johns, the theatre’s Head of Design.

But Johns, who has designed more than 60 of Theatre by the Lake’s productions, is used to working wonders – he has previously produced a flying carpet and a hot air balloon – and The Firework-Maker’s Daughter promises to be exciting, colourful, touching and funny. It will be the latest in the great tradition of magical Christmas shows at Theatre by the Lake.

The Firework-Maker’s Daughter is set in Indonesia and tells of Lila’s epic journey to discover the secrets of firework-making and much more. Lila treks across mountains, tangles with treacherous pirates, outwits a cruel king and finally confronts the dreadful Fire-Fiend.

Pullman writes: “I always loved the names they give fireworks – Incandescent Fountain, Golden Vesuvius and so on – and I began by making up a story that could have a lot of firework names in it. I also liked the idea of a white elephant being covered in graffiti. The whole story just grew out of those things, but I do think that what it says about the Three Gifts that Lila has to bring to Razvani, the Fire-Fiend, is true and important.”

The stage adaptation by Stephen Russell has mind-boggling stage instructions that call for:

  •  three firework displays and several explosions;
  •  an erupting volcano;
  •  a snake, tiger and crocodile;
  •  a burning, smoking crevice;
  •  red hot coals over which Lila walks;
  •  Hamlet, the talking white elephant to which Pullman refers.

It could have been worse. “In one draft, the page before the end called for the elephant to start roller-skating,” said Johns.

The firework display presents particular challenges: the first takes the form of a giant prawn that is blown in two to reveal a giant prawn cocktail in a glass; the second calls for a giant rocket “that bucks and charges round the stage like a steer” before “it wooshes off into space”; the third – designed by Lila – has to outshine the previous two.

Initial experiments with state-of-the-art pyrotechnics set off the theatre’s smoke alarm and the whole building had to be evacuated. So Theatre by the Lake plans to come up with something that is spectacular and theatrical – and won’t break the bank. “On our budget, a firework display would have been three sparklers and a damp squib,” said Johns.

The production will rely on theatrical magic as it moves from scene to scene in the swiftly flowing story. Johns won’t go into the details in case it spoils the surprise but reveals that Hamlet the elephant is being made by Mike Coltman, who produced an earlier elephant (named Eugene) for Theatre by the Lake’s production of Around the World in 80 Days in 2007.

The design will also make use of traditional Balinese shadow puppet techniques and the music will also come from south-east Asia. West Cumbria is home to one of Britain’s few gamelans, a percussion orchestra from Indonesia consisting primarily of gongs and chimes. Its hypnotic sounds, directed by Chris Stones of Soundwave, the music organisation based in Workington, will be heard throughout the play.

The Firework-Maker’s Daughter, full of warmth and laughter, is set to be the perfect family show for Christmas 2011. Tickets cost £23.50 – £10. Book now by calling Box Office on 017687 74411 or visit