I Got Superpowers for my Birthday by Katie Douglas is an action-packed fantasy adventure about the pains of growing up and learning you can shoot fire from your fingertips. Broadway Baby Children’s Correspondent Tom Moyser met actor Remy Beasley and Paines Plough’s artistic director James Grieve to discuss the power and responsibility of making theatre for teenagers.
If you like theatre when you’re fifteen/sixteen, you’ll keep going forever.
Paines Plough, long a powerhouse of exciting and innovative theatre for adults, are relatively new players in children’s theatre.
They had never developed a children’s show until Dennis Kelly’s fantasy Our Teacher’s a Troll last year. “It very much came from the idea of Roundabout [their mobile, circular stage currently anchored at Summerhall],” explains James. “We wanted to put on a range of work that everybody could find something to enjoy in. When we go to places like Margate, to Stoke-on-Trent we want the whole family to be able to come out.”
It is something that James wants to do more of. In fact, he’s seen I Got Superpowers for my Birthday more than any other show on Paines Plough’s rota this year. “He’s in all the time!” agrees Remy.
The play itself concerns three children who all share a birthday. When they turn thirteen, each is attacked by a gargoyle and discovers they have a unique and extraordinary power. But for all the cinematic subject matter, there are very few props and absolutely no set. Remy describes it as “the kind of story you’d tell to a kid at night as they were going to bed, really.”
James agrees: “the work we’re most excited about is stripped-back. When it’s stripped-back it’s more theatrical. The pictures people create in their heads when they’re watching in the Roundabout are more vivid than the actual thing. One thing I love about Superpowers is watching the kids see those beasts that the actors create, they can see a goblin in absolute detail. When the dragon flies away, all their heads are watching it fly.”
I admit that mine is too. “And mine,” agrees James. “We believe in the power of playwrighting, in the power of acting. If we get those two things right, we think we don’t need set and props because the audience is the third bit of that triangle that creates that experience.”
Remy recalls the influences that fed into their development of Katie Douglas’s script: The Jetsons, Bucky O’Hare, Jem (“I don’t know if you remember Jem? - they were a rock girl band.”), Harry Potter. “That 90s, comic-booky, kind of cartoony type thing. Misfits coming together is what we were really looking at.”
Both Remy and James see a special value in theatre for this age group. They define it as seven to twelve year olds; but I suspect a lot of slightly older teenagers would also love this show. For Remy, “the over-riding thing is about friendship, and also about learning to be a bit more open and comfortable with yourself, being able to reach out. It is hard being thirteen isn’t it, it’s so tough.”
It is an age group, I suggest, not always well covered by work at the Fringe. “Definitely,” agrees James, “that’s a conscious choice about why we’re making work for this age group. If you like theatre when you’re fifteen/sixteen, you’ll keep going forever. So we’re trying to produce work for kids who are at that age where they’re finding what they love and finding what they’re into, to give them a really cool, exciting experience.”
Remy agrees: “I’ve got a ten-year-old sister and that thing about going to the theatre, it’s that rejection thing isn’t it? They’re quite into rejection at that age. So it’s great to give them something that makes them think ‘oh, this is cool.’”
Can they sum it up in a sentence? Remy goes first: “Come and see Superpowers because it is a rip-roaring, fun, travelling piece that shows you what it is to be thirteen and how being part of a team is better than being on your own. Now you do one.”
James gives it a go too: “Come and see Superpowers if you ever dreamt that one day you might wake up and have superpowers yourself; join our superheroes on a quest to save the world from evil.”
“Oh, that was so much better!” laments Remy.
I Got Superpowers for my Birthday runs at Roundabout @ Summerhall until 21st August. Follow the company on Twitter @painesplough and find their full Edinburgh listing: http://www.broadwaybaby.com/shows/i-got-superpowers-for-my-birthday/715534