Take your imagination for a spin with 2024 kids’ show Mrs Armitage on Wheels

Quentin Blake's illustration of Mrs Armitage riding her bicycle while her dog Breakspear runs alongside her

Fantasy is like an exercise bike for the mind, so why not take a ride with Scoot Theatre, who bring Sir Quentin Blake’s Mrs Armitage on Wheels to The Garage on 1 August.

Aimed at ages three-plus, the 40-minute show sees our heroine and her faithful dog Breakspear take her bike out for a spin. Problem is, she just can’t help adding bits and bobs to “improve it”. New horns, a picnic basket, a toolkit, even a sail. The question is can she keep the crazy contraption in one piece?

We found out more from the company’s Max Hutchinson.

Who are Scoot Theatre?

We create work with and for children, young people, and families. We believe in the importance of play and the value of creative experiences which contribute to nurturing confident, sociable, and grounded individuals.

We include young people in the creation of all our productions, which are often performed in non-traditional spaces. We run regular workshops with schools and community groups, and we also have our own youth theatre, Scoot Youth, who meet weekly to devise their own work.

Quentin is a beloved illustrator and children’s writer. Did you specifically look through his work for something to adapt?  

He’s phenomenally popular and his work can be seen everywhere. From birthday cards to picture books, you’re never very far from his unique style. With this show, I was just reading the book to my son one night and thought it would make a great piece of theatre. My son loved the illustrations and the ridiculousness of the escalation as the bike gets bigger, heavier, and more precarious.

What was it like working with him?

We’ve been lucky to get his blessing to adapt his fabulous picture book for the stage. He wrote us some lovely feedback in response to our plans. He said he really enjoyed the music we’ve written and that he hopes there are plenty of opportunities for audience participation – particularly for the children. So, of course, we’ve listened to that.

Mrs Armitage on Wheels, like a lot of Quentin’s work, celebrates the power of imagination and the importance of resilience?

It certainly does. Mrs Armitage strikes me as a great role model. She’s imaginative – she finds such creative solutions to challenges and is flexible in the face of adversity. She also has a strong sense of self and is beautifully unapologetic about being unique or what others might describe as “eccentric”. And she takes great joy in the simple things in life – getting on her bike and having a picnic with her dog.

How did you involve young children in the development of the show?

As we tried to work out what it would look and sound like, we were lucky enough to be supported by Farnham Maltings and Arts Partnership Surrey to visit some local primary schools and nurseries to explore the children’s reactions to the book.

It was amazing to see what they got excited by in the story and the details they picked out from the illustrations – things that we missed as adults. A banana skin, for example, that none of us had noticed. We got them to design and name their own bicycle creations too and some of those ideas were incredible.

Without giving too much away, what can children and their families look forward to?

After we’d had our research and development sessions with children, we went back to the rehearsal room and tried to work out how our show could best reflect what they told us. What emerged was an almost entirely non-verbal, highly physical clown show – quite Mr Bean-esque. With plenty of audience participation of course.

There’s a feeling of [the game] Buckaroo about the way the bike grows and that’s where the drama comes from. We wanted the music to reflect that. 

So, almost the entire show is underscored live by one musician – the amazing Phil King – who uses a loop-pedal to build the music, much like the bike gets built, layer by layer. 

There’s our puppet dog – Breakspear – Mrs Armitage’s loyal but sometimes long-suffering companion. There’s something Gromit-like about them and, really, the audience sees the action through Breakspear’s eyes.

Mrs Armitage on Wheels is here at 11am and 1.30pm on 1 August. Tickets are on sale now. Find out more about the tour by following Scoot Theatre on X, Instagram, and Facebook.

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