Dr Dee’s Daughter and the Philosopher’s Stone
"We try to make everything more or less out of recycled materials. The puppets are essentially made from rubbish and we try and reuse our materials. It’s not perfect, but we aim for green theatre where possible."
It’s the launch of the 39th Newbury Spring Festival, and Miriam Nerval and Eleanor Conlon sit across from me in the Watermill Theatre bar. The pair are still donning the costumes they wore during a preview of Dr Dee’s Daughter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the full version of which will take place at Newbury’s Corn Exchange on 13th May as part of the festival.
“It’s a unique collaboration,” Eleanor says, between puppet theatre company Rust and Stardust, and the recorder group Palisander. Miriam of Palisander has set a script written by Rust and Stardust’s Eleanor to music. Telling the story of Dr Dee’s abandoned search for the Elixir of Life, this family-friendly show, Miriam tells me, provides “an introduction to the whole recorder family outside of a formal concert setting.”
Before the preview of Dr Dee’s Daughter, a whole array of recorders can be seen in the performance space. To take from the assessment of the lady sat just in front of me, it resembles to an extent a garden or gallery adorned with sculptures of all shapes and sizes. The four members of Palisander who then take to the stage to play these instruments all trained at London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama, and each possess what Miriam describes as a “shared interest in bringing the recorder to new audiences.” This is what they’re striving for at the festival: those who go to see the puppetry of Rust and Stardust will simultaneously access the various, often highly animated, sound of the recorder.
“We desperately didn’t want it to be ‘a play with music’, we wanted it to be a total experience,” Eleanor says, explaining why the members of Palisander also play characters with lines.
“Us performing from memory means we can be completely mobile,” says Miriam, “otherwise I think the collaboration would be quite static.” The requirement for her group to be this way, though, does present a challenge. “We do a lot playing from memory,” she continues, “but we don’t normally dance, act, or interact with puppets.”
On the subject of challenges, during our conversation I talk to the pair about the funding Arts Council England have given them for the show, money which came after a period Miriam calls “lengthy”, telling me “there isn’t much funding right now”, and that they were fortunate to get it for Dr Dee’s Daughter.
What does Eleanor think swung it for them? “The unique aspect of it,” she suggests. “And we had something to offer young people which appealed to Arts Council England.”
It seems appropriate that, having meandered into the green-looking Bagnor, I should be talking to a member of a theatre company focused on creating environmentally friendly productions. “We try to make everything more or less out of recycled materials,” says Eleanor. “The puppets are essentially made from rubbish and we try and reuse our materials. It’s not perfect, but we aim for green theatre where possible.”
An example worth following, of course; after all, if the planet’s dying at a ridiculously fast rate, a quest for the Elixir of Life is one you’re best abandoning.
Dr Dee’s Daughter and the Philosopher’s Stone is at Newbury Spring Festival on 13th May, 11.30am, at the Corn Exchange. The festival runs from 6th-20th May.
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