Director Sheryl Hill spends some time with Jon Boustead, the writer of Pangolin, discussing their time working together on the play so far, and, if he could ask a pangolin just one question, what would it be?
Sheryl: I always think the start of Pangolin was a bit of a whirlwind! Exploring the illegal wildlife trade, within my theatre work, had been on my mind for some time and then somewhat unexpectedly the opportunity to create a production at The College of Richard Collyer came up and straight away I knew this was a great window to create a meaningful piece of theatre exploring what is happening to the pangolin.
Jon: Yeah, I remember you contacted me when you were first looking for a writer and asked if I would be interested in pitching an idea. I had never heard of pangolins before, but I really enjoyed finding out about them. They’re fascinating creatures!
S: I know! That’s been one of the nicest aspects of creating the show – having the opportunity to continue discovering more about them, although with that does come with the sadness of discovering more about what is happening to the species.
J: That’s one of the reasons I really wanted to get on board – to make audiences care about this animal. It is heart-breaking that they’re poached, especially when one of the reasons behind it is that they are killed for medicine which has no scientific basis.
S: I think making audiences care is so important. And I think that’s what you’ve done so brilliantly with Pangolin. You’ve introduced us to this extraordinary character and through your beautiful writing – which at times is so joyful, at other times so cheeky and mischievous, moments so witty and other times so movingly poignant – I believe you’ve created a play which is going to make people fall in love with this animal and want to do much more to help its cause.
J: Ahhh, you’re definitely embarrassing me right now, but thank you as that means a lot. To me, Pangolin is absolutely a poignant and poetic piece about the fight for survival in a cruel world, and I mean that about the lead character of Girl, who goes through this life-altering experience, just as much as I do about the pangolin she encounters.
S: So how have you found the process of writing the play?
J: It’s the first time, I’ve worked closely with a dramaturg, which I’ve found incredibly useful when it comes to honing down the story. It’s also my first professional piece for a small cast of actors, rather than a large cast of children! I love the poetry in it, and creating that has been one of the most enjoyable elements of writing this play. I think the challenging side has been keeping hold of each character’s journey and the journey of the play overall, but that’s also been one of the most fulfilling learning curves of this project. I loved the student production at The College of Richard Collyer and seeing it come to life for the first time, and have that as a basis from which to develop the play further. It’s great to know my writing is in capable hands, and, if anything, having more eyes on it throughout the developmental stage is extremely useful – it is essential for the shaping and crafting of the play to make sure it’s the best it can be.
S: OK, so let’s finish this chat now on a big end note. Jon, why should audiences come and watch Pangolin?
J: Well, it’s a great, fun show that’s for certain. This show was written to affect change and whilst it’s entertaining, there is also a powerful message in there about owning your own destiny, defying your mould and standing up for what you believe in. That’s a message which, regardless of your age, everyone can identify with and feel empowered.
S: Jon, if you could ask a pangolin one question, what would it be?
J: What else can we do? What other stories can we tell? Two questions I know, but I’ll stick with that! (Laughs)