We’re now near the end of Clockwork Canaries rehearsals, and it’s a mad affair. We’ve done the broad brushstroke blocking of scenes, and are now very much fine-tuning the physical comedy and clarifying the story-beats. We’ve had lists of props numbering up to 300, stage management tasked with the creation of edible and explodable canaries, and a puppet dog called Boris who can’t stop scratching his naughty bits. Not to mention an actor that has 4 costume changes in the space of 3 pages, and the humanisation of animals.
(A prototype of puppet Boris, the Solicitor’s dog)
Welcome to the merciless world of Schwartzgarten, the dark and mysterious creation of Christopher William Hill, that some may recognise from the writer’s award-winning series of children’s books, ‘Tales From Schwartzgarten’. This particular story of an inventor, Maximilian, and his death-obsessed daughter, Tatiana, is a theatrical sequel to the novels, never seen or heard before. (And for adults too!) It’s a dark fairytale about the secrets parents keep from their children, a thrilling detective story, a Bavarian farce, and a bloody and operatic revenge drama all in one.
For director Luke Kernaghan though, it is also, and importantly, a play that champions female empowerment, amidst not very grown up adults. The focus is on the female character, Tatiana, who questions her father’s rule and asserts her voice for the first time. Before putting this fast moving comedy onto its feet we had the usual rehearsal room ‘table work’ conversations to uncover the truth and backstory of the play’s father-daughter relationship…
Under the protection of Maximilian, everything up until now has run like clockwork in a household cut off from the outside world. But whilst consumed in his inventions and the desire to keep the lineage of his name alive – something that Tatiana, being a girl, cannot give him – he’s failed to notice his daughter’s burgeoning curiosity and independence, a girl who up to now has been without friend and been kept very much a child. With the arrival of cat Count Frederick Sebastian comes a newfound power to do things she previously might not have dared. And although the logic may be twisted (it is Schwartzgarten), Tatiana finds a way in the end to have the family set-up she’s always dreamed of.
With the tremendous number of #MeToo stories coming out the woodworks over the past few months, with the 100 Years celebrations a couple of weeks ago of some women’s right to vote, and with International Woman’s Day coming up on March 8th, women are no longer the silent and passive types as usually written in fairytales. “Beware the wolf in the woods”; “beware ugly older women bearing strange gifts”; “only a princely kiss or kind huntsman can resurrect you”. These are some of the fairytale tropes we have all been brought up with. Yet ever since there have been fairy tales, there have also been feminist re-appropriations of these tales too.
I declare Christopher William Hill a feminist tale-teller of the tallest order. And a hilarious one at that.
Clockwork Canaries is a Theatre Royal Plymouth Production in The Drum 22 Feb – 10 March, tickets are available to purchase here or via our Box Office 01752 267222.