Don't miss: Beatrix Potter at Edinburgh FringeInterview
This month, young audiences can dive into the world of Beatrix Potter at the Underbelly Edinburgh Fringe. Soprano and actress Michelle Todd and the Children’s Classic Concerts Festival Ensemble team up to perform Stephen McNeff’s musical settings of The Tales of Peter Rabbit and Jemima Puddle-Duck. Performances run August 5-26 at 12:00 (except August 14), and tickets start at just £7.
We spoke with Michelle about the timeless nature of Beatrix Potter’s stories, the unique task of performing for young audiences, and the joy of singing McNeff’s “charming, tuneful score”.
What connection do you have personally to the stories of Beatrix Potter?
I have known and loved the stories since my childhood and read them to my daughter too when she was a child. I can’t really remember a time when Peter or Jemima weren’t part of my memory. The stories are timeless.
What kind of musical aesthetic does Stephen McNeff bring to Jemima Puddleduck and Peter Rabbit?
Stephen McNeff composed a score for various combinations of instruments depending on the forces available. It’s a charming, tuneful score full of character driven melodies and harmonies. The noted children’s author Adrian Mitchell adapted some very funny lyrics for the songs which are great fun to sing. I have performed Stephen’s score in both the full symphonic version with orchestras such as Calgary Philharmonic in Canada and the Nottingham Philharmonic in UK and also performed it many times in London in the chamber music version with the London Sinfonia at Cadogan Hall. However, for Edinburgh, Stephen has arranged the score for a smaller ensemble so I’m excited to be presenting this “new” version.
Do you find any unique challenges in performing music aimed toward young audiences?
Physical and facial energy are important to keep the attention of young audiences. You have to completely inhabit every character and situation. Beatrix Potter’s storytelling was straightforward and honest. She never talked down to her young readers whilst still making them believe that it’s perfectly normal for animals to talk and interact with humans. I perform with just a few props and because the show is not technology driven, the children can use their imagination as the story unfolds.
Do you think people will find having an orchestra on stage unusual for a Fringe show?
Having “live” instruments on stage but yet so close to the children will hopefully intrigue and inspire them to want to “have a go”. Perhaps even make them keen to attend more live performances.
You’ve had a rich and varied career. What have been your career highlights?
Yes, I’ve had an incredibly varied career due to my love of all things theatrical and musical. Can I have more than one highlight? The first would have to be working with Stephen Sondheim when I sang the role of Heidi, the young opera singer, in the London production of Follies; working with John Cage in Canada was memorable, and I recently made my debut at Carnegie Hall which was thrilling.
Have you worked with Children’s Classic Concerts before?
This is the first time I will be working with Children’s Classic Concerts, my first time in Edinburgh and my first time at the Fringe Festival- I’m very excited!
How will you be looking after your voice during the run?
My show is at noon so I will have to have relatively early nights to keep my voice in good shape. I’ll be drinking lots of water to keep hydrated and do both speech and singing warm ups. Fifty minutes is quite the vocal workout so I like to do a quick cool down exercise afterwards before I greet the audience.
The Tales of Peter Rabbit & Jemima Puddle-Duck runs August 5-26th. For details and ticket information, click here.