Shakespeare poem gets a makeover as a child-friendly play

Director Ian Nicholson, centre, with puppeteers Peyvand Sadeghian, left, and Yana Penrose. Picture: Chris Moorhouse
Director Ian Nicholson, centre, with puppeteers Peyvand Sadeghian, left, and Yana Penrose. Picture: Chris Moorhouse

Turning one of William Shakespeare’s most obscure poems into a show aimed at young children could be considered a hard sell.

But that hasn’t deterred director Ian Nicholson from putting on Phoenix and Turtle, a new play for children from acclaimed playwright Stewart Melton.

Originally published by Shakespeare without a title in 1601, the work was been described by scholars as’ the first great published metaphysical poem.’ In this interpretation though, it tells the adventures of two very opposite animals and their friendship, despite their differences.

Aimed at four-to-eight-year-olds, it is brought to life with beautifully performed puppetry and originally composed music.

Turtle is a homebody. Has never left the pond. Rarely out of her shell. She prefers to take things slow. Enter Phoenix. Wild, fiery, a thousand years young, Phoenix is Turtle's new neighbour.

Will such opposites fight - or catch alight?

Supported by Portsmouth Library Service, Arts Council England and Little Angel Theatre, it celebrates that we all have more in common with our neighbours than we may imagine, and how unlikely and fantastic adventures can spring from these friendships.

Ian says: ‘It is incredibly exciting to be creating a new play in my home city again and working on such an ambitious project with Portsmouth Libraries this summer.

‘Stewart and I loved the idea of making Shakespeare’s stories more enjoyable and immediate for children by telling them through the eyes of the animals in them. Phoenix and Turtle will be a playful and funny adventure for young children, and their families.’

Ian is currently lab associate director at Nuffield Southampton Theatres, and previously associate director for the National Theatre’s we’re here because we’re here by Turner Prize winner Jeremy Deller and Rufus Norris. He also previously directed Tender Loving Care by Vickie Donoghue for D-Day’s 70th Anniversary for the New Theatre Royal.

Lindy Elliott, libraries and archive services ,anager, says: ‘The library team are delighted to have the opportunity welcome these talented actors, their puppets  and their original production, to all our libraries this summer. This Art Council England funded production is a great way of introducing elements of Shakespeare to children and their families across the city. I hope children will be inspired by this very entertaining work. We are grateful to Ian and his team for inviting us to be involved in the project.’

Artwork for the production has been created by local illustrator, Stu Linfield, of Seadog Studios.

The show will be performed at the following libraries:

10am, July 28: Portsmouth Central Library

10am, July 30: Carnegie Library

10am, July 31: Cosham Library

10am, August 1: Paulsgrove Library

10am, August 2: North End Library

10am, August 3: Beddow Library

10am, August 6: Portsea Library

10am: August 7: Alderman Lacey Library

3pm, August 9: Portsmouth Central Library

10am, August 10: Southsea Library

Ticket are Pay What You Want, a scheme designed to encourage new audiences to try new work. The audience voluntarily pay an amount detcided by them after the show, based on their experience.

The performance lasts 30 minutes, with an opportunity to meet the actors and puppets after the show.