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Arts

Children’s magical ideas shape Harbour Tales storyline

Storyteller Ian Douglas, puppeteer Jo Douglas on bike with “Mrs Lutwige”, and musician Mark Newport during a Harbour Tales performance.

The imaginations of West Cumbrian children have helped to shape a magical storyline for a family production that takes to the stage this month.

Mrs Lutwige and the Magic of the North Pier Lighthouse, this year’s Harbour Tales Christmas show, will be presented by Fools Company at Whitehaven’s Rosehill Theatre following many months of preparation by storyteller Ian Douglas and team.

And there will undoubtedly be some excited young people in the audience, eager to see the results of several very special workshops.

Ian says: “There are some elements from last year’s Harbour Tales but most of this year’s story is new and has been written around the ideas of local schoolchildren.

“Involving young people in the writing has been a fascinating and exciting experience, building the narrative around the existing framework.

“Early discussions began in February, with artistic ideas in place around March, and our challenge was how to take the kernels of ideas given to us by children at workshops with eight different groups and weave them into the general story.

The workshops involved children from Beckstone Primary School, Harrington; Bookwell Primary School, Egremont; Maryport Infant School; Netherton Infant School, Maryport; Seascale Primary School; St Bees Primary School; Victoria Junior School, Workington and Whitehaven’s Woodhouse Girls’ Gang, which is part of the Connected Communities project developed by the University of Central Lancashire’s Centre for Citizenship and Community.

Ian adds: “They have all contributed to the final production. That’s a lot of co-writers!

“There can’t be many touring companies that develop their winter offer by asking young people to help create the stories for them.

“It’s all about animating the wonderful suggestions and bringing them forward into something tangible. It can be easy to brush away children’s thoughts but their ideas are a gift and it’s up to us to honour that gift, make something with it and bring the magic to life.”

Two key characters from last year’s Harbour Tales are back. The first is Mrs Lutwige herself, who lives alone in her lighthouse and can’t remember when she last shared a story or two. But her sadness has not gone unnoticed, as living with her are the “little people” and she’s about to have a magical experience that sees her travel to the edge of the world and back.

The second returning main character is The Angry Greedy Man, who saw the error of his ways at the end of the last show and repented. The audience forgave him but there’s a problem… he lied to everyone!

The production – which features storytelling by Ian, puppetry by Ian’s wife Jo and music by Mark Newport – has an important social message as well as traditional pantomime-style audience participation.

“There’s no light in Mrs Lutwige’s lighthouse and the bad man doesn’t want it to shine again as he feels it attracts ‘outsiders’ and wants the community kept as it is,” explains Ian. “It’s a timely message about getting that light back in our lives again.

“But it’s also about poking fun. There’ll be plenty of opportunity to boo and hiss and there’s even a game of bingo!”

Mrs Lutwige and the Magic of the North Pier Lighthouse is produced in collaboration with Rosehill Theatre and supported by funding from Arts Council England. Ian says the performance team is grateful to a number of people for their work behind the scenes, including set and prop designers and makers Janice Murray and Helen Morgan, of Morgan Murray Arts, set builder Alan Hawkins and Shane Connolly, a Glasgow-based puppeteer.

Next year Harbour Tales will go on tour to other coastal communities, with dates confirmed for a number of schools in Scarborough and visits to venues in south Cumbria and Blackpool also being discussed.

Ian adds: “We want Harbour Tales to help build relationships with other coastal communities, to show how they have similar challenges and barriers. We will continue to develop the story and in time we would like to think people will come to us with their own tales they wish to contribute.

“We’re in a great position to invest in the legacy of this coastal area and to help tell the stories of miners, fishermen etc, whose memories can play a huge part in contributing to a very different form of theatre-making.”

Mrs Lutwige and the Magic of the North Pier Lighthouse will be shown to the public at 2pm on Saturday 22 and Sunday 23 December, with school and youth group performances earlier in the week.

Tickets, at £10, U26 £8, free to under-fives or £32 for a family of two adults and two children over five, are available at rosehilltheatre.co.uk or from the box office on 01946 692422.

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