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Guest Blog: Rachel Bagshaw on AESOP'S FABLES at Unicorn Theatre

Guest Blog: Rachel Bagshaw on AESOP'S FABLES at Unicorn Theatre
Playdate (with the Tortoise and the Hare)

With over 725 stories to choose from, the eight writers we commissioned to reimagine Aesop's Fables were spoilt for choice. Each of the writers has had their own unique take on them - from Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig's joyful musical with a crow chorus through to as piece by Chris Goode which takes the basis of a rehearsal room and then smashes through the fourth wall with an act of animalistic rebellion.

The writers have all brought their own particular styles to the project, but they have also been united by a desire to ask - who has the right to tell a story, and who owns them once they've been told?

These questions feel so connected to Aesop himself; what we know of him is that he was a Greek slave and storyteller, but even his own life is veiled in fiction. He may have been the writer, he may not; the stories might have granted him his freedom, or in another version, he might have met his end being punished with the death sentence. Even his own life feels connected to the fables: what power does a story have and how can it shape the way we live?

The fables are perennial because they connect so deeply with the human need to tell stories whilst being so open to interpretation. Over the centuries, people have had many different views on the stories, but they keep on connecting - which is why we wanted to reimagine them for a contemporary audience.

Guest Blog: Rachel Bagshaw on AESOP'S FABLES at Unicorn Theatre
[To Be An Ox] And Other
Possible Aspirations

For Justin Audibert and me, these questions about the value of stories and morals have been so exciting to work with. We want our audiences at the Unicorn to connect with the story through a range of different forms and styles, and so this project has been a real opportunity to open the theatre up to such widely different voices.

Each of the plays has required a totally different approach, which has been a real joy and a challenge to direct. The whole creative team and actors have got behind this and we've been able to delve really deeply into these eight rich, fully formed worlds. I've loved the huge range and diversity of pieces. For me, this has included directing a one-man morality tale from Chris Thorpe to a massive cake fest for four-year-olds by Annie Siddons - about as different as you can get!

Making the shows for different age ranges has also been another adventure. The 4-7-year-olds definitely respond to the shows with a sense of wonder and openness, whilst the 8-12-year-olds tend to feel more questioning and testing of the worlds they see. We wanted a design which would hold both shows, and Lily Arnold, our designer, has created a really flexible, ambitious set that holds each of the stories in their own space. It's a fun, spectacular world and the actors use every bit of it in both shows.

Making theatre for young audiences is such a rewarding, thrilling job to do; there is nothing like the immediate response from them to let us know whether they're connecting to the show! This project has been such fun to reimagine these familiar stories for our audience and to push the boundaries of what we all think storytelling is for.

At a time when arts provision in schools is valued less and less, it feels so important that places like the Unicorn can be a space for young people to grapple with questions about what it means to be human - and Aesop's Fables do just that.

Aesop's Fables is co-directed by Rachel Bagshaw and Justin Audibert and runs at the Unicorn until 3 August

The writers are:

EV Crowe with Playdate (with the Tortoise and the Hare) (for ages 4-7)

Annie Siddons with Ant and Hop (for ages 4-7)

Frances Ya-Chu Cowhig with Frankie and the Cow, music composed by Ruth Chan (for ages 4-7)

Kaite O'Reilly with Dog and Wolf (for both age ranges)

Chris Thorpe with Filberts (for ages 8-12)

Naomi Iizuka with 2 Goats (for ages 8-12)

Somalia Seaton with [To Be An Ox] And Other Possible Aspirations (for ages 8-12)

Chris Goode with The Wolf & The Shepherd (for ages 8-12)

Photo credit: Craig Sugden, Alicia Clarke

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