Dik Downey is co-director, performer and puppet-maker of award-winning puppet theatre company, Pickled Image. Their latest production, ‘Yana and the Yeti’ is a dark fairytale in the vein of previous works, which tells the story of a lonely little girl and the monster who befriends her. We caught up with Dik on his way back from Norway, where the team have been developing the show.
Hi Dik, so what’s new..?
Well, I just got back from Norway. Tomorrow they’re doing a try-out run though for a school of ten year olds in Norway (our target audience is 5+). ‘Yana and the Yeti’ is a very beautiful, sad, funny and thought-provoking show about a young girl who comes from somewhere else, arriving in a small, remote, snow-bound village in the middle of nowhere. Nobody understands anything she says, and she doesn’t understand them either. The story is about her trying to be accepted and come to terms with her life as it is.
In the process, she gets lost in the forest and meets a very unexpected character… Well maybe not that unexpected as it is in the title, ‘Yana and the Yeti’ (laughs). It is a tale about how isolated you can be until you actually start being understood and making friends.
You took a team out to Norway to produce the show…?
Yes. It started off in Bristol with a team of puppet-makers, which was myself (Dik Downey), Emma Powell, Lizzie Johnson, Katie Hood and two volunteers, James and Harry. So we made the majority of the puppets and tiny village houses for the set here. We then shipped the puppets and set pieces out to Norway in three flight cases. Emma Powell and I then flew out to Norway with Dean Sudron, who is the lighting designer. There we were met by Linda Anneveld, who came over from Holland. Linda, who used to work with a company called ‘The Lunatics’ made the costumes for ‘Coulrophobia’, so we were familiar with her work. Her role was to make the costumes for the puppets in ‘Yana’, which was something that she’d never done before. She loved it and made some exquisite costumes.
After the first fortnight, the rest of the crew joined us: Vicky Andrews (performer and co-director of Pickled Image), Emma Lloyd (Director), Nicky Warwick (performer), Adam Fuller (performer), Adam D J Laity (filmmaker/photographer), Simon Preston (composer) and Hattie Naylor, (writer) came also. Adam Laity came with us to shoot images for stage projection on location. Part of the show has a mountain and this image changes throughout the show depending on the time of day and weather conditions. It was quite magical.
What was the development process of the production..?
Vicky and I came up with the original concept, then had meeting with Hattie Naylor and Adam Fuller (who knows our works very well, as he has performed in and written quite a few of our shows.) Between the four of us we came up with a rough idea of the storyboard, which Vicky and I drew out. That gave us a template to work from. We then made the puppets and took them out to Norway.
With hindsight, we could have done a bit more R&D in the UK to work out the story further because the team have had to do a lot of that whilst in Norway. If we’d spent a bit more time in preparation here it might have been a bit smoother over there. When we got there, we needed to make changes. For example, we were going to use a lot more film footage such as scenes from point-of-view perspective using this miniature set that we’d built. However, when we were there we decided that we didn’t want to do that as it would take away from the majesty of the mountain that was being projected throughout. To project other images on top of it would have diminished this.
Another aspect that we didn’t fully understand was the complexity of timelapse photography. When you see it used on ‘Plant Earth’, for example, it has taken months and hundreds of thousands of pounds worth if kit to achieve! Adam has done a fantastic job making a beautiful final image, so that was good.
Being there, in Norway, and being surrounded by snow all the time did give you that ‘feel’. It probably influenced Simon more than anyone else as he spent a lot of time outdoors doing field recordings of sound, such as the wind, which we used in the show.
The photos of the performance that I’ve seen look really cinematic…
Yes. We’ve got these tiny puppets, which we were worried might be too small in the theatre but we think it will work in the sense that it is very cinematic. Dean’s lighting is just so brilliant also; it really pinpoints this tiny little village and gives a wonderful look. All the houses have lights inside; there are tiny little streets lights and a mountainscape behind it the lights up beautifully. I think in a proper theatre with a blacked-out environment you’ll see all those tiny details because it is so focused.
We use split images as well. So in the village you will see a tiny Yana puppet standing underneath a street light, which ‘cuts’ to a table where you see a bigger Yana under a larger street light.
So yes, it does have quite a cinematic feel and is aesthetically beautiful. But the story is also very engaging. Hattie has gone out of her way to make sure people cry… And then laugh! It is quite emotionally heart tugging, as well as warming.
‘Yana and the Yeti’ will tour the UK throughout the summer. For further information about the show and Pickled Image Theatre Company, keep an eye on their Facebook page or visit the Pickled Image website: http://pickledimage.co.uk