Robert Shaw Cameron is directing The Borrowers at Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre this summer.
How are you bringing this beloved book to the stage?
With big Jammy Dodgers! The eternal joy and fascination, whenever you return to the novels, is the inventive and imaginative recommissioning of everyday human-sized objects when they are in the hands of the Borrowers. This isn’t easy in theatre, let me tell you, but with an amazing designer and production team at Storyhouse, we’ve got some fun finds and surprises along the way. We may need to borrow the audience too, so we are employing a little bit of magic to ensure that they really enjoy ‘sizing up’ the characters too.
If you were a Borrower, where would you like to live?
I think I’d love to live under the speaker’s chair at the Houses of Parliament and watch all the drama play out in front of me. Or maybe in the Royal Box at Wembley Stadium so I could get the best seats in the house on match days. Or perhaps, best of all, it would be great to live in an Indian Restaurant and then I’d get to go out every evening and ‘borrow’ the best spices to cook up a feast with my family.
What was your first reaction to the script?
This is Bryony and I’s seventh collaboration, so when I first read a Bryony script I know exactly what to expect and it’s usually great joy, lots of laughter, several surprises and some inevitable moments where I shake my head and smile. I shake my head because she sets the audience, the director, the designer and the actors little challenges through the text and if I’m honest, sometimes they are a little daunting. However, I smile because I know that almost always and inevitably, she has imagined something you haven’t yet and knows that in time, when it meets with your imagination, together it’ll be even better. Bryony is unlike any other writer I know. Her work is inherently theatrical and always lets the audience know that they are both in this world and the world of the play. I think all that is true in The Borrowers too. A first draft of a new play is a starting point and we’ve worked hard together to keep evolving it to bring it to this point. I hope the audience will also experience that joy, laughter and a few surprises in the production.
How do your experiences as an actor help you to direct?
I really am in awe of great actors, it’s a very exposing place to be. Their bravery in getting up there and investing into the lives of the characters and through them into the lives of the audience really can be very special. I think it helps when I direct to understand that. I always believe theatre is special because with everyone’s imagination we can make something greater than the sum of its parts and whilst in this play we may only be small, our actors have been giants!
Which Borrower (or Big Person!) do you think that you are most like?
Well I certainly couldn’t be Oliver Overmantel because I love cheese too much! I’m quite a northern pragmatist like Ronnie Rainpipe and I can often be found breaking into song like Heliotrope Harpsicord. I’d most like to be like Arietty, a loving, independent and curious adventurer, not afraid to try new things, kind to people and with a love of art.
How are you creating the world of The Borrowers at the park this summer? Have there been any challenges?
It’s been really important to me and all the team to introduce a new generation of readers and theatre-goers to this classic novel, as well as give back a little something to those who are familiar with it already. We’ve worked hard to bring the story to Chester and its young people, we’ve set in the present day and not the 1950’s like the original stories, as well as in Grosvenor Park itself. We hope that, as well as falling in love with the characters, familiar and new, audiences will recognise themselves and the challenges the Borrowers face on their quest.
What do you want audiences to take away from The Borrowers?
My niece and nephews, Jess, Zach and Lucas, love watching The Borrowers movies with my Mum and Dad. So they’ve been in my mind a lot when we’ve been making the world of the play. So like them, I want to make the audience smile, find the joy in silliness, enjoy seeing themselves and their city in the world of the play and I hope share my belief, that when times are tough, we are always better when we work together to overcome our challenges.