The Girl With the Iron Claws – Interview with writer Hannah Mulder

Photo: Patrick Baldwin

Photo: Patrick Baldwin

The Girl with the Iron Claws rounds out its UK tour in Hackney’s own Arcola Theatre this week, having premiered in the Edinburgh Fringe in 2011 to rave reviews and an award nomination from Total Theatre. Here, writer and director Hannah Mulder takes some time out from rehearsals to talk to us about the production.

HH

Congratulations on the success of The Girl with the Iron Claws. Your run in The Arcola started on Monday. What’s the reaction and level of engagement been like? What’s the big difference between Edinburgh audiences and theatregoers in Hackney?

HM

Thank you! It’s brilliant to be at the Arcola – a theatre we love and are especially appreciative of its brilliant environmental policy. We’ve had schools audiences so far and they’ve been brilliant. I’ve never heard a scream quite like it at the appearance of our white bear.

HH

You’ve said that you didn’t write the play specifically for children, but that families have really been drawn to the show. What are the different ways that children and adults seem to engage with the performances?

HM

Both adults and children engage with the powerful story that whips you along and with the magic of the piece. They tend to find different elements funny, although they definitely share moments of laughter too, but the piece appeals to children on one level and to adults on a slightly more knowing level. But in essence I think these stories are ideally designed to speak to cross-generational audiences, as coming-of-age is probably something we have to do over and over again as human beings. We don’t grow up only once!

HH

What made you want look to Norse mythology for your source material?

HM

I first heard the story from a Devon-based storyteller called Martin Shaw, in a yurt in midwinter, with about twenty people huddled around a woodburner. I loved it from that moment and recognised that it was a story with inherent dramatic potential for theatre. It’s also a story that holds many of the tropes and images we recognise from other more well-known Western European stories, but gives them a distinct Scandanavian twist. It’s a bit like Beauty and the Beast, with a difference.

HH

How does puppetry offer interesting ways to engage audiences in a theatre?

HM

You can do things with puppetry you can’t do in any other form and the leap that it takes an audience to believe in the living aspect of a puppet is something which makes them actively engaged in creating the work with you, which is something we love. We use a whole range of puppets, from more classical bunraku style puppets for some of our children characters, to a costume puppet for our bear and a multi-part puppet for one of our more monstrous characters. There’s lots of transformation in this story and puppetry is an ideal way to bring that to life.

Photo: Patrick Baldwin

Photo: Patrick Baldwin

HH

What other kind of visual spectacle can we look forward to seeing in this show?

HM

The kind of visual spectacle we love to use in this show is the sort created from simple techniques – shadow, light, sound, the use of simple objects, which require the audience’s imaginations to fill in the gaps. There are moments staged with simple props, puppetry and sound, during which audience members have told us they swear they could feel the wind on their faces and smell the pine forests!

HH

You’ve said that you’re passionate about old stories and what they have to offer contemporary audiences. What does The Girl with the Iron Claws have to offer contemporary audiences?

HM

Hopefully a bit of unexpected magic and the experience of entering a different world for an hour, in the company of a powerful story.

HH

Can you tell us a bit about HAG, your next show premiering in Edinburgh in August?

HM

Hag is a re-imagining of one of the great stories from Slavic folklore which features the extraordinary child-eating hag-witch Baba Yaga. We’ve played around a lot with the story and the way in which its told, but at its heart is a girl whose dying mother has given her something she doesn’t want. Accepting it, however, might turn out to be the only thing that will save her own life. There’ll be lots more visual delights, dark humour, song and story in it and we’ll be at Latitude Festival, Edinburgh Fringe at Underbelly and in the autumn, Soho Theatre and a UK tour.

The Girl with the Iron Claws will be in The Arcola until Saturday. www.arcolatheatre.com Box Office — 020 7503 1646

About Pete Lawler

Pete Lawler I was born in the USA, but I’ve lived, learned, and taught in London for the last 8 years. I reckon that makes me as much of a Londoner as anyone here. There are all kinds of Londoners.

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