Multi-award-winning performer and storyteller Danyah Miller will bring alive the Isles of Scilly in her one-woman recreation of Michael Morpurgo’s Why The Whales Came. She will do so with crucial input from video designer Cate Blanchard.
The production comes to Worthing’s Connaught Theatre on Saturday, October 1, and it will be Cate’s videos, along with the audience’s imagination, which will complete the picture.
Danyah had previously had huge success with Morpurgo’s I Believe in Unicorns: “I came in for this one because they were wanting to get a bit more location,” Cate says. “My work has consisted in working the videos into the set. We are basing the set around a jetty. Danyah is going to story-tell through a series of wooden jetties. Obviously we can’t take all the children and the audiences to the Isles of Scilly so my job is going to be to come up with the videos that suggest the isles. We were not able to get to the Isles of Scilly because of the constraints of getting the whole crew out there. But I have actually done a lot of footage on the Sussex coast, at Camber Sands. I was also lucky enough to go to Denmark on holiday, and I used that to get some footage as well.”
The challenge is the sheer distinctiveness of the Isles of Scilly: “But we thought of Camber, and Camber was the similarest we could find, the feel and the look of the sand that the children would have known.”
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“Part of the challenge is that we are talking about the First World War, and so we have got to come up with footage that is going to feel right for that time. It’s a big task. If you imagine that for reasons of copyright, you can’t just take things off the internet. You have got to create things and then interwine them. And then everything has to be done with Danyah in mind and what she is saying and what she is doing. The video has to accentuate what is going on rather than overpower it.”
And there the challenge is that if you put a video screen in front of people, they will automatically look at it: “It is a question of getting the balance right. We had a couple of what we called playdates before going into rehearsals. We made a mock-up of the set, and I brought along projectors and some footage and started playing with the set to see what it looked like as a whole.
“I trained as a set and costume designer at the Central School of Speech and Drama where I now teach as a video-design lecturer. I started trying to use videos in the sets I was designing, and you realise that sometimes a video projection can carry far more information than a painted set.”
But Cate stresses again, it’s a balancing act.
“You don’t want to overshadow the actors...”