Zoë Palmer on the mountain-shaking return of Musical Rumpus

musical rumpus

We’re half-way through touring our baby opera Musical Rumpus across Newham and Barking & Dagenham, and we’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who has got involved so far! The latest production of Musical Rumpus, The Mountain Shakers, re-tells Handel’s story of Acis and Galatea performed by musicians from the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and The Sixteen’s Genesis Sixteen programme. We caught up with librettist and director of the show Zoë Palmer and asked her how it’s going so far:

“I’ve just got back from a community centre near London City Airport where we had our third performance of The Mountain Shakers.  When we create a new show it’s always exciting to see how the babies respond to the various offerings we make in the show, whether they explore, ignore or transform what is there.  Today we had a young girl who mimicked the action throughout.  She was completely absorbed in what she was doing be it stamping, shaking, rolling, or following the trail of singers’ voices.  It was wonderful to watch and the way Oliver Hunt’s gentle Giant character grew into the role was enchanting.

One of the challenges I enjoy about this work is trying to take babies and parents on a journey that is emotionally rich and complex whilst keeping the language and narrative as simple as possible and having fun in the process. The Mountain Shakers is the fourth production we have made as part of the Musical Rumpus series and more than ever before, it focuses on interaction.  When I began working on the initial idea for the Rumpus I was keen to offer an alternative to other work I’d seen for very young audiences which demanded that babies and toddlers be held in the arms of an adult.  It seemed ridiculous to expect a small child not to want to move and respond to what was happening on stage – so by casting them in the opera I tried to anticipate a sort of pitch invasion from our audience.  In fact, I suppose one of our goals is that invasion, the rumpus, the joyful and sometimes chaotic interaction that happens when there are 50 babies and an ensemble of wonderful musicians playing in a room together.  Our designer Sophia Lovell-Smith worked tirelessly to create intricate, child-friendly props to make this proposition visually exciting.

The music for The Mountain Shakers is based on Handel’s Opera Acis and Galatea which has been skilfully arranged by our music director Sam Glazer for an ensemble of three musicians.  I’ve no idea how he creates such a rich sounding texture from so little!  This time round we were keen to bring the instrumentalists out from behind their music stands – so we cast them as Shepherds and made them an integral part of the story-telling.  The narrative is loosely inspired by the original in that there is a Giant (Polyphemus) and a Water Nymph (Galatea), but is also a playful exploration into the themes of imagination, transformation and the feelings that they engender.  What happens to a cloud when it cannot rain?  Perhaps it gets frustrated and perhaps that’s a feeling shared by babies who are constantly learning how to communicate what they need?  Our giant, on the other hand, is so shy that he hides himself away but comes to life again when he realises he has the power to play and create whatever he wants.

With regards to the sound of the piece,  it’s a very special experience watching a baby hearing live music of this kind for the first time.  Feeling the music in fact.  Sometimes their jaws drop open and remain so for the rest of the show, sometimes they just smile and smile and smile, other times they cry (rarely!)  However they respond, it is certainly true that the music helps us create porous boundaries that enable connection, curiosity and co-creation, an experience enjoyable for adults and babies alike.”

Zoë Palmer

You can see Musical Rumpus: The Mountain Shakers at Rich Mix in June as part of our Summer Festival. These shows are extremely popular so book now to avoid disappointment!

Musical Rumpus: The Mountain Shakers
Friday 6 & Saturday 7 June
Rich Mix
£5 per child, accompanying adults free
Book tickets now


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