Writer and director Hannah Mulder and designer and puppet director Rachael Canning founded The Wrong Crowd in December 2010. Their first show, The Girl with the Iron Claws, enjoyed a successful run at the Edinburgh Festival last year and will shortly be touring the UK and Ireland, which includes a run at London's Soho Theatre.
During our conversation, I wonder how The Wrong Crowd got their name as Hannah Mulder and Rachael Canning couldn’t be friendlier or more generous interviewees. Inspired by a sense of teenage rebellion, Mulder “misheard someone talking about another company that I thought was called Terrible Influence and thought that was a great name. We love the idea of having a crowd of people and we want everyone who comes into contact with the company to feel that they’re part of The Wrong Crowd. Rachael and I are quite different, so it’s one of those pairings that you might think wouldn’t work, but actually it does as we balance each other out.”
The Wrong Crowd’s first show, The Girl with the Iron Claws, had a sell-out run in Edinburgh last year; they were compared to Kneehigh by Lyn Gardner, and being able to re-visit a show and tweak the aspects that they weren’t satisfied with the first time around is a rare opportunity and a “treat.” The original cast has returned and “Everyone has come into rehearsals knowing the piece really well, being really bonded so we can just crack on.” They have added more music; Canning has created another set of puppets rather than doubling one set up for two groups of characters, and “as characters in fairytales can sometimes be so archetypal that you don’t quite connect with them”, the supporting characters have become more strongly individualised.
“The story is a Norwegian fairytale with the same roots as Beauty and the Beast,” Mulder explains. “It’s part of the ‘animal groom’ group of stories, usually about a young girl who ends up in a relationship with a lover who is an animal by day and a human by night. The heroine is wild, wilful, wayward, fearless and totally different from the world in which she has grown up. She has these awful sisters and this tyrannical king for a father. She wants to get away from that and find something new. It charts her coming of age and maturing into a woman via dark and difficult places.”
Mulder came across the story “in a yurt in Devon in midwinter from a storyteller called Martin Shaw, who runs The School of Myth. There were some amazing stories told as we huddled in our blankets, but that one particularly stayed with me. That was about three years ago and after we decided to start the company in a pub during Christmas 2010, we went back to my flat and had a dreaming session and I said, ‘I know what our first show should be, I heard this wonderful story…’” It reminded Canning of a story from her childhood called East of the Sun, West of the Moon, a slightly more Christianised nineteenth-century version of the tale.
From there, they immersed themselves in the cross-referential nature of fairytales: “There are so many stories that have little elements of this tale. There’s one in Grimm called Hans, My Hedgehog, where the heroine walks in iron shoes for three years. We believe that these stories were always meant to be living things that could shift and change and be passed on, so we’ve made changes as any storyteller would have done through the ages. We’ve changed the ending a little; not fundamentally, but some of the details of how it came it pass.”