An Interview with Clare Beresford and Dominic Conway, cast members of Antarctica

The charming and award-winning national touring company Little Bulb Theatre have been creating exciting things in the rehearsal rooms of Bristol Old Vic over the last month. Renowned for their beautiful physical theatre performances and high energy ensemble storytelling Antarctica is an inspiring tale of bravery and exploration. We caught up with performers Clare Beresforde and Dominic Conway (dressed as snowflakes) to find out what it takes to be an explorer!

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Tell us about Antarctica
Well, it’s pretty cold! But the show is about an explorer who goes on a trip lured by the beautiful place itself. We play everything that is Antarctica; the animals; the elements; the landscape; the atmosphere; everything! Everything apart from Sir Lord Chief Brave Explorer Peregrine Falcon who is played by performer and director Alex Scott. He is an extreeeeemely brave explorer, the chief brave explorer of the Brave Explorers’ Club and he is about to embark on an expedition to the icy lands of Antarctica.

Everyone who comes to see the show is enlisted in the Brave Explorers’ Club and accompanies Peregrine Falcon on his expedition to Antarctica; a quest to find the Owlarbear.

Tell us about the characters in the show
The Explorer: Sir Lord Chief Brave Explorer Peregrine Falcon played by Alex Scot
Peregrine Falcon is an extremely brave explorer. He’s got the whole weight of the show to carry on his shoulders, as well as his backpack – so it will be a heavy show for him. Explorer extraordinaire, determined to find the Owlarbear, buoyant and cheery, he’s charming! He’s the kind of guy who can lead an exhibition and he’s the one you’d want with you if you were stuck in an icy ravine. He’s a bit like an olden-day Bear Grylls!

The Owlarbear…?
Not all that much is known about the Owlarbear. You won’t even find this creature written about in books. Don’t bother looking in encyclopaedias because it’s so rare, even David Attenborough hasn’t found it! In one scene in Frozen Planet there’s a long shot of Antarctica and from a distance you can just about make out the Owlarbear…but they didn’t spot it, its very blurry and not very clear. We wrote to David Attenborough and explained about this and asked if they had any close-ups of the Owlarbear. I received a very concerning letter in return basically saying in his opinion the Owlarbear didn’t exist… but essentially they did sloppy research.

Our explorer, Peregrine Falcon, believes this creature to be in existence. The creature is half owl, half polar bear, with the head and the wings of an owl and the body of a bear. Owl-ar-bear! It’s only been seen by the bravest of explorers. Audiences coming to see the show stand a good chance of seeing the Owlarbear. But not a certain chance. they have to be VERY brave. Bravery will be one of the most important factors in getting to see the Owlarbear.

The characters and animals of Antarctica
We are essentially a two person chorus. We have many different characters to play. Two Russian dancers Gregore and Katarina; a sad lonely penguin; the seals who are like pompous opera singers who are doing battle on the beach; the birds who are sneaky and villainous and the fish who are just beautiful and quiet…and edible. The underwater scenes are generally a moment of calm, as are the Aurora Australis or the Southern Lights. We play all of them, characterising Antarctica and everything in it!

Describe the production in three words
Full of excitement
Physical, funny, brave
Gripping, physical, energetic
Snowy, musical, dangerous!
Bravely dangerous musical – but it’s not a musical…

It can’t be condensed into three words! Inuits have 50 words for snow, so we need 50 words for Antarctica. So to describe it in three words one might say: “Can’t. Be. Done”

Or: Brave snowy fun!

What inspired you to make this production?
Well, these snowflake head dresses! We were inspired by the continent itself and the nature of exploring. There’s something really exciting about a faraway place that’s almost uninhabitable. We have set the production in the age of exploration where Antarctica really was the last frontier, when everywhere else had already been explored. That’s real exploring – going to places that are completely untouched by man. Explorers are the most inspiring people – going to the middle of a place and you don’t even know what’s there. That’s what we find inspiring.

What research did you do to prepare for making Antarctica?
We took a visit. A lot of the budget was spent on a long helicopter trip. We were very inspired by Frozen Planet, despite their mistakes with the Owlarbear. That documentary in particular we do owe quite a debt to – that DVD is well worn!

We previously worked on a show a few years ago called Lizady which was about an explorer in a hot climate. The explorer had found a ‘Lizady’ which was half lizard and half lady. So that production gave us a lot of ideas and research for Antarctica.

What is an average day in the rehearsal room like?
We’ve never worked on a show as a three before, it’s the smallest the Little Bulb company has been. Alex is directing while Clare and I are on stage. Sometimes we all have a mix around; we all take it in turns. It’s a very physical day. It’s kind of like if you turned up for school and the first three lessons were all P.E. … but kind of really abstract obscure P.E.

What can people expect from this production?
A snowy good adventure! I think our aims for the show were to make something which was, all at once, beautiful but funny and with a character you can follow and a gripping story that gives everyone a really good time. Many people come in feeling like they’re not brave enough. Some people come in not even feeling like an explorer, feeling more like a theatre audience member, perhaps even a nervy one. Some would rather have their nappy changed that partake in any extensive exploring! But once you meet the brave Lord Peregrine Falcon your feelings are changed and he will help you find the bravery inside of you. The bravest thing you need to do is come along to the show.

What’s next for Little Bulb and you?
Well I think we’re needed at a ski resort to line the slopes!
We are reviving our production of Orpheus which will be on at Battersea Arts Centre from April 8 to 17 May and then potentially to the Salzburg festival. There other bits and pieces we’re working on but we’re keeping them under wraps, much like the existence of the Owlarbear.

Antarctica runs from 27 Nov-4 Jan. Find out more here.


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