From our Artistic Director:
As well as celebrating our work over the past 25 years, staging Once Upon a Time at Aldeburgh's Jubilee Hall in November 2022 marked the end of Wonderful Beast’s time as a charitable company, and the start of its new life as a creative hub – a theatrical consultancy for anyone who wants to use it.
Over the years we have amassed a huge library of stories, experience and material that I hope can become a rich resource for schools, arts organisations, individuals, writers, composers, performers, as well as a facility for providing practitioners on request for specific projects. As always, the Beast leads us off on another magical path.
In 1997 I decided to form a theatre company, to dramatise folk and fairy tales, myths and legends. It seemed to me that these stories were not only invaluable for children but for all ages. They’re rooted in timeless moments that eschew age division, when families, friends, children and babes in arms gather together to entertain one another, grow sleepy listening, or stay up all night quarrelling about the ‘right’ version of the tale. As a primary school teacher, I’d seen how the words ‘Once upon a time…’ could captivate children, opening the door to an inner place where they could explore all those powerful emotions evoked by the stories. Seeing Tim Supple’s productions of Grimm fairy tales at the Young Vic clinched it for me. Despite being told I must be mad, I recruited a group of friends, including the poet Adrian Mitchell and actor Roger Lloyd Pack, all passionate about these stories.
Wonderful Beast came to life. Our first play, The Birth of Pleasure (an apt title to herald the 25 years that would follow), based on the Apuleius story of Cupid and Psyche, was produced at the Rosemary Branch Theatre in Islington. Since then, we have never stopped.
The company relocated from London to Aldeburgh in 2005. Whilst staging new plays – many based on East Anglian folk tales – we toured nationally, collaborating with English Touring Opera, introducing Orpheo and The Cunning Little Vixen to thousands of children. We worked with Suffolk schools, residents of care homes and alms houses, created interactive music theatre shows for babies and toddlers, and formed The Wonderful Beast Singers.
Our festival series, Storm of Stories, which ran from 2012-2016, included two community operas and a glorious mixture of amateur and professional talent – East Anglian step dancers and folksingers, local people telling their own stories, and professional international performers.
Our latest production, First the Dance, Then the Feast, based on a Hungarian folk tale, gave children from three local primary schools the opportunity to perform Eastern European songs and dances, working with professional musicians and actors. Families, friends, children, and babies filled the audience, sharing in this joyful culmination of everything for which Wonderful Beast has always stood.
ALYS KIHL, ARTISTIC DIRECTOR OF WONDERFUL BEAST
Alys Kihl, Founder and Artistic Director of Wonderful Beast.