Return to Oz: Interview with Zoe Squire, Pins & Needles

Pins and Needles Productions is an award-winning, female-led theatre company in Bristol. Based on a strong Director/Designer partnership between Emma Earle & Zoe Squire, the company is well known for their beautiful stage adaptations of children’s literature. This Christmas they will be bringing L Frank Baum’s classic, ‘Oz’ to Tobacco Factory Theatres. Emma Windsor caught up with Zoe Squire to find out more about this magical production.

Can you tell us more about you and Pins & Needles Productions? 

We create imaginative theatre for all ages and are passionate about finding playful ways to tell stories full of heart, humour and magic. We are well known for our bold and imaginative adaptations of children’s books.  Our most recent show ‘Oi Frog and Friends!’, produced by Kenny Wax Family Entertainment, has been nominated for an Olivier Award for Best Family Show 2020.  In 2018, we won the UK Theatre award for Best Show for Children and Young People for ‘Little Mermaid’, co-produced with the Egg, Theatre Royal Bath.  

‘Oi Frog & Friends’, Pins & Needles Productions

We love working as collaboratively as possible, and one of our biggest strengths is the diverse range of artists we have worked with.  From actors and animators, composers and lyricists, lighting and sound designers, to movement directors and projection mappers, we are endlessly amazed by the talent out there. 

‘The Bear’, Pins & Needles Productions

Pins & Needles are bringing a new show, ‘Oz’ to Tobacco Factory Theatres this December.  Can you tell us more about the production? 

We are thrilled to be working with the Tobacco Factory this year to bring to life such an iconic, well-loved story. We’re luck to collaborating with an insanely talented cast and creative team and everyone involved feels a sense of responsibility to make the process as supportive and positive as possible, and the desire to make something meaningful, magical and memorable for Christmas audiences returning after the events of the last couple of years.

We have been dreaming of adapting L Frank Baum’s story for a while. Being such a big fans of the iconic film, however, this comes a huge amount of pressure with the adaptation process. Where do you honour the original and where do you depart? How do you deal with the fact that the MGM classic is one of the most influential films ever made? Is it possible to look at blue gingham without instantly picturing Judy Garland? But there were plot points, characters and themes in the original book that were left unexplored by the film. Each time Dorothy encounters a new territory, she finds people being controlled, subjugated or manipulated in some way. This orphan child driven by empathy and humanity goes up against the adult establishment, spearheaded by rogue rulers abusing their power.

‘Oz’ show poster, Pins & Needles

The biggest image for us was the green goggles you can see on the show’s poster. In the book, every person visiting Emerald City is locked into a pair of glasses and must wear them day and night, by order of the Wizard. Dorothy has this revelatory moment where she manages to remove her glasses within the city walls, and discovers that it isn’t actually green or indeed made of emeralds, it’s just the effect of the mandatory eye wear. When you start to think about the control involved in this grand illusion, the Wizard starts to feel less like a doddery old man behind a curtain, and more like an Orwellian dictator.

‘Oz’ in rehearsals at Tobacco Factory Theatre

However, despite new elements, we have been careful not to take the magic out of ‘Oz’. The production is jam packed with exciting visuals and moments – from songs to lots of different forms of puppetry, from quirky characters to high energy movement sequences. We hope there is something for everyone in ‘Oz’.

How is puppetry used in the show?  

We use puppetry a lot in the production to help us populate the world of Oz with weird and wonderful characters, ranging in all types of scales and forms. Zoe designed the puppets but we have been working with a collection of South West puppet-makers to bring them to life. Within the design it was important to have a consistent, over-arching language that spans the worlds, but each territory also has its individual identity and community, which gave us the license to be more playful. We also wanted to set up a language to breath life into unexpected objects and costumes. Without revealing too much, our ensemble help to magically create the Lion, Tin Man and Scarecrow in front of the audiences eyes, and our Yellow Brick road takes on many forms.  

Photo: Jess Jones (Puppet Maker, ‘Winkie’) 

What plans or resolutions do you have for the new year? 

For anyone in the industry it has been a massive achievement to have got through the past 20 months and still be making work. However, taking a step back has given the company time to take a good look at the what we offer our audiences, develop exciting projects, and explore new avenues and medians which we may not have ventured into had we not had this creative space. We are excited that live theatre is back, but also feel there is a lot of new things to be discovered with how the digital stage can feed into our storytelling and audiences’ experiences. Watch this space! 

This Christmas you can also see our work in three different stages across the country. Alongside ‘Oz’ in Bristol, we celebrate our 10th years of our adaptation of Raymond Briggs’ ‘Father Christmas’ at the Lyric Hammersmith in London and ‘Oi Frog and Friends!’ will be starting its 2022 tour with a Christmas run at the Wales Millennium Centre. 

‘Father Christmas’, Pins & Needles Productions

 

Interview with Emma Windsor


‘Oz’ will be at the Tobacco Factory Theatre in Bristol from 10 Dec – 16 Jan 2022. Find out more and book tickets on the TFT website here. To find out more about Pins and Needles Productions, visit their website or catch up on all the latest news on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

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