Told through spellbinding chamber music performed by exceptional musicians, the award winning Smile takes the audience up mountains, across deserts and into the ocean.
The show, by MishMash Productions, comes to the National Centre For Early Music for two performances on Sunday (October 21).
It is based on the wonderful children’s picture book Augustus and His Smile, and is perfect for children aged 3 – 6 years and their families.
We caught up with MishMash creative producer Liz Muge to ask her all about Smile.
‘The music is the star’
Why did you choose Augustus and His Smile to adapt into a show?
I spent hours in Waterstones one morning and when I stumbled upon Augustus and His Smile was instantly attracted to the story.The tale is a universal one of finding happiness inside yourself and the emotional journey Augustus goes on apart from being really engaging is perfect for communicating musically with different sound worlds. It is also really helpful that Catherine Rayner’s illustrations are just exquisite and to be able to use them in the show is amazing.
How do you make it come to life on stage?
We work as a team – myself the Creative Producer, Martin Berry our Director, Helen Fownes-Davies our Designer and Sophie Rivlin who as well as performer in the show is our Musical Director. We started by chatting through musical repertoire that would communicate the emotional journey well and then molded the story and design around the repertoire. Martin then works intensively with the cast on how they perform and how they present the music and the story and Helen adds all that magic to bring it to life.
How is the music incorporated into the show?
We describe our work as ‘Theatrical Chamber Music’ so it’s really a concert but it looks and feels like theatre. We use the magic of theatre to support the communication and connection with the audience but the music is the star really. Having a small ensemble means we’re able to get up close and personal with the audience and really bring them into the magic.
Our super talented musicians have also memorised all of the pieces so they’re able to move around and connect with the children without music stands getting in the way.
How do you engage such a young audience?
We try to let the music do the talking but frame it with excellent design and props and story so all these additional elements lead the children into the music. The small size of the set really helps too and the children are so close to the ‘action’ that they can literally feel the music as well as see and hear it.
What have been the best reactions you have had to Smile?
Ooooo, we’ve had some lovely reactions. The cutest are the spontaneous responses where the children are just so into the piece that they respond out loud! Like the little boy at the end of the video – he was so totally drawn into the story and so delighted when Augustus finally finds his smile! We’ve also had some gorgeous dancing – which is always a lovely thing!
Have you had good experiences on visits to York?
The team at NCEM have been so supportive of my work ever since I started the company in 2014 and were one of the first venues to showcase our first piece Hubbub. The musicians love coming to St Margaret’s Church as the space is so excellent for music. A lot of our venues are theatres and they complain (a lot!) about the terrible acoustics! But not at NCEM – it’s such a gorgeous space to play in.