Having originally trained as a designer, Shona Reppe now creates and performs in children’s shows, including Atlantis Banal: Beneath the Surface and The Curious Scrapbook of Josephine Bean. She chats to Giverny Masso about the value of children’s theatre and her design work on the upcoming Black Beauty at London’s Southbank Centre.
What kind of theatre do you make?
I’m known for making children’s theatre. I’m happy in that world because I know that good theatre is good theatre, but children’s theatre still gets a bad reputation or is seen as sub-standard. Some of the best theatre I’ve ever seen has been children’s theatre around the world. I thought the other day: “Would I change if I did work for adults without children there?” and I honestly don’t think I would, because apart from doing shows for very young children, where you have to think about certain aspects, children are so clever and feel and see things just like adults do but don’t process them in the same way. They’re often much more open and ready for the madness and they take it on. I make work for people, and they happen to sometimes be very young people.
Tell me about your work with Imaginate’s Edinburgh International Children’s Festival?
It’s been the most amazing showcase for my work through the years and allowed me to travel. I’ve done shows in Sydney Opera House, on Broadway, in Egypt, Korea – we’ve been to some amazing places. I’ve been very lucky to take part in that.
What aspect of theatremaking do you focus on?
I trained as a designer, but through the years I’ve crept my way on to the stage. I’m still a maker, but I perform in my own worlds. The kind of designer that I am is a devising artist. I’d be a rubbish designer if I was told: “This is what we want, go away and make it.” I want to be part of the concept and the devising. I can’t unpick the design from the rest of it. I think that’s one of my best skills – I like to think of everything and not just go: “I want to make that look pretty.” All designers do that to a certain extent, but I don’t think they are always allowed to. A lot of designers would make great directors.
Tell me about the creation of Black Beauty at the Southbank Centre?
We had a great team, with Andy Cannon and Andy Manley. What was lovely is that we’re all theatremakers and performers. We co-created the piece – so no one can say: “That was my idea”. It was a mix of everyone’s inputs. It’s certainly taken the heart and soul of what Black Beauty should be and given it a lovely, inventive, fun and nostalgic remake. It’s kind of for those who don’t want to do a panto this year, but still want to have a good time with the family.
Training: Theatre Studies and History of Art at Glasgow University (1989-91); Theatre Design at the Welsh College of Music and Drama (1992-93)
First professional role: Peeling armour off Ian McKellen as a dresser at His Majesty’s Theatre, Aberdeen
Agent: Louise Gilmour Wills (producer)
Black Beauty runs at the Southbank Centre in London from December 14 to January 4. Details of Reppe’s upcoming shows: shonareppe.co.uk