Caro Meets Children's Show Interview

Peter Glanville: Maanika & The Wolf

By | Published on Friday 23 July 2021

Many readers will be more than aware of the Polka Theatre in Wimbledon – which specialises in children’s theatre – not least because we often mention the shows it produces in our weekly recommendations.

Of late, the venue has been undergoing renovations, but that hasn’t stopped them from working on new and interesting ventures. This week sees the opening of a new piece for younger children – ‘Maanika & The Wolf’ – at a pop-up shopping centre venue.

To find out more about the play I spoke to its creator and director, Polka Theatre Artistic Director Peter Glanville.

CM: Can you start by telling us about the narrative of ‘Maanika & The Wolf’? What story does it tell?
PG: It is about a grandmother called Maanika who returns to the room she grew up in as a child. She then retells the story of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’, transforming her room with objects from her childhood dressing up box. However, the story is woven with tales from her Indian past and suggestions from her granddaughter Ruby, who she speaks to via video calls.

CM: What themes does the show explore?
PG: Maanika has been told that she has to sell her home and this is a threat that parallels the wolf in the fairytale story. Through the telling of the story, and her empathy for the struggles Little Red Riding Hood overcomes, she finds strength and courage to defeat a ‘wolf’ in the real world – these are the central themes that are explored.

CM: What made you want to create this retelling of a classic story…? In what ways is it different and in what ways similar to the original tale?
PG: The story resonates with the COVID world we find ourselves in, a world where the outside can be threatening. It is a way of safely exploring many of the fears and experiences children and adults have been going through in this pandemic.

I was also struck by how important technology was in allowing my children to keep in contact with their grandma, and this influenced the piece. Maanika and Ruby can still stay connected, and be creative together, and this relationship is mirrored in Little Red Riding Hood’s relationship with her Nani.

CM: Who is the show designed to appeal to? What sort of age range?
PG: We recommend it for three to six year olds, but anyone is welcome to come along.

CM: It’s being staged in a new pop up venue – can you tell us a bit about it? What motivated you to create this new space?
PG: Later this summer, Polka Theatre in Wimbledon is going to be reopening after a major capital redevelopment, but prior to this we wanted to be able to present something in the heart of our local community. When the opportunity arose to take over a disused shop in Centre Court Shopping Centre, we jumped at it. It has been great to have people wandering into our rehearsals to find out what is going on, and I hope that we will be engaging a lot of new audiences who might not have been to Polka before. We are limiting audience numbers to 30 to keep the space as safe as possible and can’t wait to see the reactions from children to the production.

CM: Can you tell us about the creative team involved in bringing the show to life?
PG: It is extremely important that the production is authentic in its representation of Maanika and her Indian cultural heritage. There has been an amazing team to work with. I have developed the story with Ruchika Jain, who as well as performing, has been part of the devising process, bringing a wealth of personal stories and experiences from her Indian past to the play. We have also had Sudha Bhuchar, co-founder of Tamasha Theatre, as our dramaturg; composer Arun Ghosh creating atmospheric South Asian influenced music; and Sophia Lovell Smith, whose father was born and brought up in India, as our designer.

CM: How has the pandemic affected Polka Theatre and how have you got through it?
PG: In some ways we were fortunate that Polka was already closed for its redevelopment, but nevertheless the pandemic did have a negative impact on both the costs and the timing of the project. Organisationally, we all continued to work remotely and deliver our programmes online, continuing to support thousands of children and families with theatre and creative and participative activities. This has been an extremely difficult time for children and our focus has predominantly been on supporting their mental health.

CM: What aims do you have for the future?
PG: We want to continue with our mission to create theatre and creative learning activities that can help children navigate their place in the world. More immediately, we are extremely excited about opening our new building and inviting audiences back through the doors with a season of work that will bring joy and inspiration to thousands of children.

CM: What’s coming up next? Do you have other work in the pipeline?
PG: We have a brilliant new season of work which will be opening at Polka, do please check out our website. Our opening production is ‘RED’, an adventurous visual and physical promenade production, which happens across the ground floor of the building. It is being directed by Hannah Quigley and incorporates British Sign Language and another nod to the story of Little Red Riding Hood, but it’s created for slightly older children .

‘Maanika & The Wolf’ will be performed in a pop-up theatre space at Wimbledon’s Centre Court Shopping Centre from 31 Jul-29 Aug. See this page here to book your tickets.

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Photo: Mica Lawrence