The Magic Elves: An interview with James Kent

Once again our Studio is set to be transformed into a magical winter wonderland with our Christmas show The Magic Elves. We caught up with Assistant Director James Kent during a break from rehearsals and he told us about his latest job…

Miranda Cromwell and James in rehearsal for The Magic Elves. Photo by Duncan Smith.

Miranda Cromwell and James in rehearsal for The Magic Elves. Photo by Duncan Smith.

What is your job on The Magic Elves?

I’m Assistant Director to Miranda Cromwell.

What does that mean?

Well, because the show is on a fairly small scale, it’s being another body in the room. It’s doing the odd jobs that need doing, it’s being an outside eye – things like that. At the moment, we’re exploring ideas using a lot of sound, so there’s a lot of things that need doing for that, like sound cues. I help with editing the script as we go, when we’re making things or devising I have a hand in helping out there… so it’s a very varied role. If I’m there, and can help with something – chances are I will be asked to!

The core creative team had a week of research and development, and I came into the process after that. The story had already been designed by the time I joined, and as the story comes from a pre-existing book, it really helped me to get up to speed quickly.

We’re really working with a crack squad – Mike Akers has written a really great script. If we’re working on a scene during the days rehearsals and something isn’t quite working, and we need it to go somewhere else, or say a certain thing, he will have something written and delivered by the next morning’s rehearsal, so we’re really lucky.

The actors are on it. Devising doesn’t take long, as there’s a real rapport and trust already there between them. Ed (Kid Carpet) is all over the sound, and can flip a switch or press a button and he’s transported us to the world of the elves. Miranda has a fantastic vision, and knows exactly what she wants the show to be – so that’s covered. It’s an absolute dream team.

I’m really there to facilitate and help that vision become what you’ll see on stage over Christmas.

As we go into tech week, and begin to polish the show, it’s more about being Miranda’s extra pair of hands – from sound, to props, to set. I’m quite literally her eyes from a different angle. The show is in thrust, so I help make sure the show looks good to everyone watching it, wherever they’re sat – it means she can focus on an area of work, shout over to me and I’ll run across the room to see what it looks like from, say, the third seat on the fourth row – then from the second row in the Balcony.

Can you tell me how you got started?

I was in the Young Company for a fair few years, as a result of this, I started assisting in workshops – then I got into Made in Bristol. From there, I’ve worked with the Outreach department on lots of different projects – from working in schools, to teaching in Young Company sessions. This summer, I was Assistant Director on the Young Company show, Wodwo – it was my first time in that role. I’d assisted on shows before, but never in such an official capacity.

After that, I got a call from Miranda asking whether I’d like to be assistant director on The Magic Elves. I hadn’t really considered started on the path of directing theatre, but I really wanted to work with Miranda, and thought it would be a lot of fun.

Bristol Old Vic’s Outreach department have been instrumental in my career progression. They always look out for work for you – They’re always thinking, who would suit this project? How can we fit this person into this show?

So – let’s talk about The Magic Elves. What can we expect this year?

The Magic Elves is similar in vibe to another of Miranda’s shows, Hey Diddle Diddle (Bristol Old Vic, 2012). We’ve tried to incorporate the audience, and the story is brilliant. The colours are crazy, it’s loud and bright. The trailer is bonkers – if you’ve watched the trailer, expect that in human form!

The basis of the show is that Kid Carpet is a wannabe DJ who is tasked with looking after his parents shoe shop. He’s not really bothered about making shoes, and just wants to make music – he’s crazy talented, he can just do it like that. He’s fun and energetic – his last show Kid Carpet and the Noisy Animals was so much fun, I watched it a couple of times.

His music informs so much of the narrative; it’s great to have that extra facet. He’s really shaped the tone, and pushes the story along.

Our actors are really great, Isabelle Cressy and Chris Farish, who was also in Young Company, are brilliant dancers. They’re both playing Elves, it’s great to watch, because Chris is so tall and Isabelle is so small. They’re running about, spinning, doing splits in the air – I feel tired after a long day, just sat there, so I don’t know how they do it.

The script allows for so much physical improvisation, it’s really great to see. The actors are so funny and relaxed, and the atmosphere is so great – Miranda and I have to check ourselves sometimes, we shouldn’t be having this much fun at work!

You can expect some tunes, a great story with a funky twist; it’s going to be fun and colourful and engaging. We’re basically just hoping people will want to get up and dance!

The Magic Elves begins previews on Wednesday 26 Nov, and runs until Saturday 3 Jan. For more information, or to book tickets, click here.

The Magic Elves
26 Nov 2014-3 Jan 2015

10.30am & 1.30pm (term-time weekdays, Tue-Fri)
11.30am & 3pm (Saturdays and Christmas holidays, Tue-Fri)
£13/£7.50 (plus booking fee)
Ages 7 & under
Under 2s go free

Signed performance: Sat 13 Dec, 3pm



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