Bringing The Very Hungry Caterpillar to Stage
Following seasons in London and New York, one of the most iconic characters in children’s literature will wiggle his way to Blackpool this July, when The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show plays at Blackpool’s Grand Theatre on Friday 12 to Sunday 14 July as part of a UK Tour celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the book.
The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show features a menagerie of 75 enchanting puppets during a magical 60-minute show that faithfully adapts four of Eric Carle’s best loved books for the stage: Brown Bear, 10 Little Rubber Ducks, The Very Lonely Firefly and, of course, The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
Jonathan Rockefeller is the creator and director of The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show, and here he talks about the process of adapting Eric Carle’s iconic story and illustrations for the stage.
The book celebrates its 50th birthday this year and remains as popular as ever. What do you think are the reasons for its enduring appeal?
“It’s pretty hard to believe that a little picture book could have such enduring appeal – until you pick it up and read it! Eric Carle’s bright, bold pictures are works of art, and nobody can resist playing with the holes in this book. The Very Hungry Caterpillar is not just a book, it’s what Eric describes as a toy book or book toy – something that is meant to be played with even before you learn how to read.”
The story is as much loved by parents as it is by children. Why do you think that is?
“I think everyone has a positive memory of this book. It’s usually the first book you are given as a child,or give to your own child; and on first glance the pictures are enticing. But I think it endears itself with parents because it’s a deceptively simple book that enables children to associate words with everyday objects, and in turn helps teach children to read and communicate. Not to mention it’s a great story that brings joy and lots of laughter – especially the big, fat caterpillar.”
How did The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show come about?
“In 2012 I had a crazy idea that these wonderful, simple picture books that the entire world grew up on would make a great visual show. And so I sat down with my sketchbook and began. Getting Eric Carle on board is a whole other story…”
How did you and the creative team approach translating Eric Carle’s iconic illustrations for the 3D world of theatre?
“It was a challenge to translate these books because all of Eric Carle’s iconic illustrations are flat and seen from one angle, so we had to imagine what it was like to see the same object from all angles. The second challenge we had was each animal needed to move as seamlessly as it would in the real world. The colours were the third challenge to get exactly right too – bringing his painted tissue paper collage to life on a large scale. It took a lot of trial and error and revising scale, building patterns, and adapting our techniques – using industrial fabrics from construction sites instead of paper, and broomsticks as paintbrushes.”
Has Eric Carle been able to see the show?
“It was a long journey to bring the show to the stage, and took the collaborative work of my team and Eric’s team to ensure everything was perfect when compared to Eric’s illustrations. Eric has been so complimentary throughout the journey – he’s so witty and charming. Eric wasn’t able to see the show’s debut in Australia, but he came to the New York premiere with all his family, friends and his editor of many years. Aside from the excited children sitting around the group, I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house. Although everyone had been part of the journey, finally seeing Eric’s life work have a life of its own was moving for everyone. It was truly special.”
The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show is a great first introduction to theatre for young children. Why do you think this is?
“Eric Carle’s work has delighted young readers for generations. For so many children it is almost a right of passage to be introduced to reading from this book – and it is the perfect introduction to the theatre with 75 incredible puppets coming to life in front of their eyes!”
Why should families come and see the show?
“I asked a four-year coming out of the show why people should come and see it. He told me “It was the best-est most amazing, incredible show he had ever seen in his entire life, and I can not wait to see it again”. Coming from a four year old that’s the highest possible praise and why we do this show.”
The Very Hungry Caterpillar Show plays at Blackpool on 12 to 14 July as part of a UK Tour celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the book. For more information and tickets visit here.