Telling the Pangolin’s Story

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)







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.

Back to the Beginning

To coincide with the launch of our fundraising campaign, we decided to grab a cup of tea with director ‘Sheryl Hill,’ and sit down to find out about the inspiration behind the new play Pangolin, by writer Jon Boustead.

Sheryl, first of all, what actually is a pangolin?!

A pangolin is an animal. It’s often referred to as looking like a scaly anteater and that’s because it’s the only mammal in the world which has scales. They’re these incredible looking creatures and one of the things I find most fascinating about them is when pangolins roll up into a ball to defend themselves that the scales are so tough that even creatures like lions can’t bite through them.

Sadly, their scales are also one of the reasons that the pangolin is the world’s most trafficked mammal, with the species being poached at an alarming rate.

How did you find out about pangolins?

I’ve always loved animals and for most of my childhood I wanted to be a vet. As I got older I realised how squeamish I am and subsequently decided to pursue a different career path! In recent years I’ve started researching more and more into the illegal wildlife trade and that was how I came across the pangolin and its plight.

One of the most striking bits of research I found was a statistic which estimated that over the last ten years about eleven thousand rhinos, one thousand tigers and about one million pangolins have been killed. That’s one of the things which really captured my interest; the severity of what is happening to this animal, but in comparison to more iconic species it’s just so hardly known.

That very much sowed the seed of wanting to create a theatre production about this creature; to tell its story and to raise awareness.

Our Pangolin’s First Steps

Yesterday we made some exciting announcements about our debut play, Pangolin, including our partnership with Born Free and the launch of our Crowdfunder. Today director, Sheryl Hill fills us in on how these things came about.
Creating Pangolin, in its very first guise, was the result of a very lively chat with Sally Bromley, Principal of The College of Richard Collyer a sixth form based in West Sussex. Sally was searching for a director who could bring an idea to the table for a student-led community theatre production, to perform within, and benefit, the local residents of Horsham. It was the word ‘community’ that excited me.
Prior to meeting Sally, I had read more and more into the global illegal wildlife trade and, in doing so, had discovered the pangolin and its plight for myself. That conversation, with Sally, for me meant more than just ‘local’ community; it also got me thinking about our roles within our global community. This felt even more tantalising as sixth form students are at that significant moment in their life, that transition from childhood to legally being recognised as an adult, the moment they fully start to make their own way into the world. Working with the students to make a show which has this at its heart was such an exciting opportunity; something which I often felt was recognised by all of us working on the show during that process. The gusto and passion those students displayed throughout our term working together still gives me goosebumps as I sit here now writing this, almost nine months later.
The wonderful partnership between Born Free and Pangolin the play was established after I invited the Born Free team, just up the road from their offices in Horsham, to watch a performance. I wanted them to see this gorgeous play with the biggest heart, which asks audiences to take a positive stand for all of the fellow creatures with whom we share this planet, and the efforts of the students who had poured their heart and soul into realising it onto the stage.
Born Free do fantastic work to ensure that all wild animals, whether living in captivity or in the wild, are treated with compassion and respect. Amongst the work they do to support conservation and protect threatened species they are working to reverse the fortunes of the pangolin and ensure the survival of this incredible animal for many years to come. So it felt like a great fit for the project.
Afterwards, we were delighted to meet the team members from Born Free and hear their hugely positive responses to the work and as they say, the rest is history! We all quickly strove to get a meeting in the diary to discuss the potential of working together on this production, driven by that shared ambition of raising as much awareness as possible about the pangolin and elevating its status to the same of that as elephants, rhinos, tigers (to name a few!) within the public consciousness.
Having the expertise of Born Free on board is a hugely exciting prospect and we are looking forward to working with the team over the course of the next year and immersing ourselves in all things pangolin, and them in return – all things theatre!

Announcing our Born Free Partnership

We are delighted to announce that we are working with the remarkable charity Born Free on our new play Pangolin.

Born Free work tirelessly to protect animals across the world, finding Compassionate Conservation solutions so that humans and wildlife can co-exist peacefully. Pangolin is a theatre production for families, which explores this very tension – between child and parent, poacher and pangolin, human and wildlife.

Ships in the Night are so pleased to be partnering with this fantastic charity. By working together we’ll be gaining more insight into the natural world of the pangolin, as well as increasing the impact and reach to schools and all-age audiences through resources created with the Born Free educational team.

Born Free, the charity co-founded by actress Virginia McKenna OBE, works to protect threatened species in the wild. They said: “This play is a refreshing opportunity to share what is a current and vital conservation message. Pangolins are the most trafficked mammal in the world, and thousands are taken from the wild each year for their meat and scales. Despite this, many people are unaware of these amazing animals.”

Born Free’s mission is to ensure that all wild animals, whether living in captivity or in the wild, are treated with compassion and respect and are able to live their lives according to their needs. Born Free opposes the exploitation of wild animals in captivity and campaigns to Keep Wildlife in the Wild.

Born Free promotes Compassionate Conservation to enhance the survival of threatened species in the wild and protect natural habitats while respecting the needs of and safeguarding the welfare of individual animals. Born Free seeks to have a positive impact on animals in the wild and protect their ecosystems in perpetuity, for their own intrinsic value and for the critical roles they play within the natural world.

At Ships in the Night, we’re already so excited by the passion, expertise and generosity of the team at Born Free. We’re just so eager to see what else is in store..!


Welcome to the home of Ships in the Night, a theatre company creating engaging and urgent productions.
We want to grapple with some of the issues happening in contemporary society – the sort of issues when in the future we might look back and wonder why we didn’t shine a bigger light on it, when we had the chance.
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Artistic Director