Interview Exclusive: tutti frutti’s Wendy Harris Chats About WILD!

tutti frutti present WiLd! by Evan Placey. Image Credit: Brian Slater

Rhys Warrington stars in WiLd!, a new play by award-winning writer Evan Placey. Image Credit: Brian Slater

Frankly My Dear UK talk with tutti frutti Artistic Director Wendy Harris about their new play WiLd!

Following on from their acclaimed 2014 production of MONDAY’S CHILD which explored Alzheimer’s disease, theatre company tutti frutti return to the stage with their new play WILD!

Written by award-winning writer Evan Placey, WILD! tells the story of 10-year-old Billy who has been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). The one-person show captures Billy’s funny, quirky and wild imagination and features live music by Molly Lopresti.

Ahead of the performance at York Theatre Royal, Frankly My Dear UK caught up with tutti frutti Artistic Director Wendy Harris to chat about the play and her inspiration for the piece.

“I guess the idea started with tutti frutti” comments Wendy.

“tutti frutti is a company that commission artists every year to create new pieces of work for children and I commissioned the writer [Evan Placey] to create the piece. We want to tell a really entertaining and heartfelt human story and on this particular project that is underpinned by the fact that our main character has the condition ADHD. It’s a really engaging, lovely story of a boy and the writer [Evan] completely gets into his shoes and basically tells his story.”

To create an accurate portrayal of a child with ADHD, Wendy and her team worked closely with Professor David Daley of CANDAL (the Centre for ADHD and Neurodevelopmental Disorders across the Lifespan at the Institute of Mental Health) and his team at University of Nottingham to understand the behavioural condition which affects one in 20 children in the UK.

“Our starting point was to really thoroughly research the science and medical aspects” explains Wendy.

“We had a lot of meetings with David [Daley] as part of our research and development process. Then Evan, our writer, condensed the information into his brain and somehow translated that into a story.”

“The science really informed the form and style – around pace, around distraction, around hyperactivity and around the inability to focus – so all of those things are reflected both in the story but also in the form of the play itself.”

Aimed at children aged 8 years upwards, WILD! uses live music, movement and sound to connect with the young audience. In the play, Billy takes over the care of his absent father’s bee hive and the bees become a metaphor for Billy’s condition, as well as the journey he takes as he gets medicated.

“Because our audience is children, we wanted it to be from a child’s perspective so our main focus was around putting the character in the story in the shoes of a child” explains Wendy.

“The main metaphor in the piece is his [Billy’s] love of Bees. He has this real love of this bee hive and through that we learn about him, about what is going on at home and what is going on at school.”

“We always ask the question when we make a piece of work, where is the child in this, what is in this for a child? Our work isn’t condescending or pinky ponky, it’s very sophisticated and multi-layered and we really try and put children at the heart of that experience.”

While ADHD is at the heart of the story, Wendy is keen to point out the story isn’t just about the condition, it’s a story about being misunderstood, something which many children can relate to.

“I think the story doesn’t just talk about ADHD, it looks at being different full stop. It’s about what it feels like to be lonely at school because everybody thinks you’re different, whether that’s because you’ve got ginger hair and people are being mean to you or because you’ve got a different accent, whatever it is, there are lots of children out there experiencing that loneliness. I hope that above everything, the children get an understanding of what it feels like to be that person and help to develop their empathy and their understanding of how they might better accommodate, support or be friends to people in that situation.”

Since its premiere at The Carriageworks in Leeds on the 30th April, the play has been on tour around the UK and has certainly had an impact on its audience.

“The reaction so far has been absolutely amazing” comments Wendy.

“I was sat just the other day in a school of children from an urban deprived area and those children were amazing, they just completed hooked in. They just completely got it.”

“I think the children really delight in the boy, in his friends, in the way he portrays adults. Rhys Warrington who is playing Billy is incredibly charismatic and he has a wonderful way of really connecting with the children and they can feel that. They can feel that he is telling the story for them.”

“We’ve even had parents in tears, coming up to us and thanking us because they identified very strongly with the challenges that the child has, as well as the adults around him.”

WILD! is currently touring the UK until 10 July 2016.