April 20th, 20158:01 am @


People always ask us where our ideas come from. To give an example of the way we work, I am going to look at one specific influence and chart the effect it had on the production. It is a short film called Flotsam and Jetsam…

Way back in 2011 the Dumbshow crew got together in a pub for a story day. We were all tasked to bring something that we thought could make a good play or provide inspiration for a play. Hester brought a novella by John Steinbeck called The Pearl. She told us the story (and Hester is very good at telling stories) and we were all gripped. We loved the big ideas in the book about greed and morality and the value of things. We could immediately see that there were some great characters in there, such as the pearl merchants and we already had a good idea of what they could look and act from the descriptions in the book.

At this story day I brought something rather different. I got everyone to watch a short film I had found on Vimeo that was about beachcombers who lived on an island called Texel, off the coast of the Netherlands. They collected everything that washed up on the beach and had created a collection. Over the years the collection had built up to form a museum of sorts. What was a touching about the film was that everything they collected was important no matter what it was. They said, “what the sea gives, we keep”. I wasn’t sure what the ideas in the film would lead to, but I was sure there was a story to be found in objects washing up on a beach…

Jump to when we are in a rehearsal room. We have ten days to devise The Pearl and we have to work quickly. We storyboard the whole of the text, on big sheets of paper and cover the rehearsal room. We also add lines of text that jump out, imagery we like, characters that stand out, and locations. It became evident that we would need narrators to help tell this story. There was the potential to use some of the lyrical, beautiful language in the text that would work better as narration than dialogue. Steinbeck originally wrote The Pearl as a screenplay, and as such the description of landscape and locations is incredibly evocative.

The idea of the beachcombers was lodged in my brain, and I thought they could be the narrators and tell the story of Kino and Joanna and the pearl as the objects from the story washed up on their beach. It seemed to fit really well as these quirky beachcombers were already storytellers because they sought out stories in the objects that washed up everyday. Dumbshow often use narrators and direct address to engage and entertain our audiences, and the Beachcombers could easily ask the question “what is the value of things?”

The aesthetic of the film then influenced the overall design of the production. Our designer Hannah Rowlands actually went and collected flotsam and jetsam from the beach, and even seaweed to give the authentic smell of the sea for the first couple of performances (and then it really started to stink…). We collected rope, bottles, wood, right footed shoes, plastic bottles. The set became like the Beachcombers museum.

In the play, everything the beachcombers tell the story with has washed up on their beach. The scorpion is made from a lobster hook (and my long fingers). A scholl of fish are created from coke bottles. The jellyfish are made out of fishing nets and upturned buckets. The audience really delight in these moments as the objects don’t disappear but suddenly out of nowhere we have created and imbued life into inanimate objects.

The idea that everything that washed up should be used to tell the story really infected the whole production. This is a particularly good example of the relationship between adapting a text and form (storytelling). The novella was our starting point and constant guide, and the frame we gave ourselves were the beachcombers. This in turn influenced the design and the form.