Bringing the World of Pangolin to Life

Director Sheryl Hill tells us about one of the most important aspects of the show – the design – and how, with designer May Jennifer Davies, they will create the world of Pangolin.

Working alongside me on Pangolin, is my long term collaborator May Jennifer Davies who is overseeing all of the design elements on the show. From the set, to the costume, to the puppets, there’s a lot going on! May’s even designed the poster image and created some beautiful stop motion animation for our crowdfunding campaign video.

We first met when May was looking for a director to collaborate on a project, as part of her Masters studies, and put out a call out for directors on the Young Vic Directors Network, of which I am a member. Through working together on that, May and I clicked, quickly identifying a shared way of thinking with how we approach the design of a play. When it came to Pangolin, I knew she would be the right fit.

Many of our earliest meetings were spent in the foyers of the National Theatre debating the themes that we felt really captured the message at the heart of Pangolin and how we could visually depict them within the design. I felt, and still do feel, very strongly that our relationship with the natural world, and how we use it as a commodity for financial gain, is an important through line in the play. After all, Mum and Dad, the poachers, hunt animals and then sell them as various different trinkets in order to line their pockets.

The skeleton of the market stall, on which the other locations within the play are built, confronts the audience with this idea and reminds us just how to easy it is to not even think about from where so many of the items we use on a day to day basis come. It doesn’t chastise us for that, more gently probe that dis-connection; something with which I think many of us can identify.

In those meetings we also set our sights on one of the play’s biggest design challenges – how to construct a puppet that can move like a pangolin, including the ability to quickly roll up into a tight round ball. And because we like giving ourselves as big a challenge as possible – how could we achieve that with only one puppeteer?

The pangolin puppet is one of my favourite elements of the show; a feat of puppetry design genius at the hands of May, if I may say so. I also love the cheekiness, the gentle-ness, the vulnerability, that comes from this unassuming character each time a puppeteer brings it to life. The joy of the first time we finally achieved the quick roll up into a ball in rehearsal will continue to remain a highlight of this theatre process.

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