Something very special is happening next month. Founder of Kneehigh, Mike Shepherd, will open his first major production at the Minack Theatre since he stepped down as Artistic Director of the award-winning company in 2021.
Kneehigh may have closed its doors, but the inspiration of the people who created its unique style is as alive as ever and Mike and his collaborators, old and new, are full of excitement about this new venture. Mike explains how their new piece, Calvino Nights, co-directed by Elayce Ismail with poetry and lyrics by Anna Maria Murphy and Carl Grose, has grown out of the legacy of Kneehigh.
“Zoë Curnow asked me if I could make a show that was like the Kneehigh shows she remembered as a kid. I certainly wouldn’t want to recreate shows from a distant past, but it got me thinking about what Zoe might mean!
“Kneehigh started out creating and performing shows for children and their families but I never catagorised them as children’s shows. I wanted them to engage in different ways for different generations and to be a good night out for all.
“As a child myself, I must admit, I found theatre too long and a bit boring. So, when I came to make theatre myself I needed it to be exciting and not too long! This obviously is a bit simplistic but, thinking about the shows which Zoe remembered…they were full of energy, bold, funny, loud, a bit naughty, physical, visual, poetic and surprising. Calvino Nights is all of these things!
“Italo Calvino was an Italian writer who collected aural tellings of folk tales and rewrote them with a lavish sprinkling of exaggeration. Our show, Calvino Nights, is inspired by a mix of several of these folk tales including the adventures of a boy the size of a pea, a skinflint miser, a woman who lives on nothing more than wind, there are hapless robbers,fallen angels, circus tricks , the cosmos and lots of fire !
“Calvino has inspired us for many years. Kneehigh shows The Wild Bride and The Wooden Frock were based on his folk tales. Last April we made a short film at Restormel Castle with director Joe Wright inspired by the Calvino story Princess and Peppernose -you can see it on YouTube. Now is the time though to leave those screens behind! Stories need to be experienced live, we all need live events!”
Executive Director of the Minack Zoë says, “We are delighted to be working in cahoots with Mike and imPossible Producing to bring this new piece of theatre to our stage. Many generations of Cornish school children (myself included) were inspired by Mike’s work at the Minack in the early days of Kneehigh and we are really excited to reintroduce his style of performance to a new generation of young people, the Cornish community and our visitors.”
Co-producing Calvino Nights is Cornish production company, imPOSSIBLE Producing. Producers Gabby Vautier and Charlie Bunker say, “imPOSSIBLE Producing was set up in response to the pandemic to support individual artists and activists who are not afraid to cause creative havoc. We are so excited to be supporting Mike Shepherd in his first venture since Kneehigh, working alongside the brilliant Elayce Ismail and are delighted to be welcoming the team of incredible local, national and International performers. We can’t wait to see how audiences go wild for Calvino Nights at the iconic Minack and at the Lost Gardens of Heligan on Flora’s Green – where Kneehigh first performed all those years ago, inspiring generations of theatre makers and audiences.”
Calvino Nights will contain elements that will be familiar to Kneehigh’s many admirers. An ensemble company, an original score of songs and music, wild, wonderful storytelling full of theatrical magic, laughter and spectacle, and a message that is both challenging and uplifting.
One of the most anticipated theatrical events of the year, Calvino Nights is a must for anyone who ever fell under Kneehigh’s spell, anyone who loves stories or just enjoys a good night out! Mike Shepherd and Elayce Ismail, invite you to join the marvellous Mr Calvino and his motley troupe of tale-tellers, song-makers and fire-raisers for an unforgettable ride through life.
Calvino Nights opens at the Minack Theatre on 1 May and runs until 19 May. It then transfers to The Lost Gardens of Heligan from 27 – 29 May.