In Conversation with Rachel Canning (KITE)

Monday, 25 January 2016 00:00 | Posted by 

Rachael Canning is a Puppet Designer and Director of The Wrong Crowd.  She speaks about their new show 'KITE':

Hi Rachael, The Wrong Crowd will be performing their new piece, KITE, on tour. How are you feeling ahead of the event?

Excited and a little bit scared. KITE is something completely new for us and we are doing it from scratch! So super exciting but super scary. I’m looking forward to getting into tech and seeing all the visuals and music come together. There are so many components and no words so we need to be clear with the story telling and I hope audiences are excited and moved by it.

Could you explain what KITE is about?

It’s about a young girl who is recently bereaved after loosing her Mother, who she loved very dearly. The girl now has to live with her grandmother who she doesn’t particularly get on with and so she decides to run away. To combat loneliness she makes and befriends a kite. It’s a simple story but with, we hope, many layers. The girl is desperate to get away from her current situation, her loneliness and sadness and grief. She wants to get away and go back home to her old life. The kite she befriends helps her learn to love her new home London by taking her on an adventure through the capital. She realises she has got a future beyond her Mother’s death, and a new family.

KITE is a magical adventure. It’s a guide book for the lost that will lead to a special place where they can find others like them, take a deep breath, and let go. When two broken hearts are forced together after a very precious link has been taken from them, they find it hard to accept words of comfort when all they want is to be alone. It’s about trying to find your way through the murky labyrinth between having someone wonderful taken from you and letting that someone go.


Described by The Wrong Crowd, KITE is a love song to the wind, freedom and play. Are these the central themes of the piece?

Yes, it’s about all those things but it’s also about differences. The grandma and the girl are sort of the ‘odd couple’ who don’t get on or understand each other at first. They are both dealing with loss and KITE is really about losing someone you love, about how you deal with loss. Through a night out with a magical kite the girl discovers what she still has. Different people experience grief differently, and definitely at different speeds. Some people want to escape, and some want to bury it down and not talk. We see these different stages of grief from both the girl and grandma. KITE explores family and dealing with loss and realising how to help yourself through talking with the people who care.

What inspired the creation of KITE?

It was through working with indoor kites on another project I was working on – Kes – a ballet, where we used kites as birds. And I just loved working with the kites so much, I researched them and found all these brilliant videos of them being used in big American sports halls to power ballads which were cheesy but I just loved them and knew we had to make a Wrong Crowd show with them. So after some research and development we realised it could totally work to use an indoor kite in a theatre show. We then started building a story around the kite and like Mary Poppins or The Snowman the Kite is the help, it comes to help in a situation of crisis. The Red Balloon was also a massive influence as well and just this idea of a friend coming to help but the beautiful notion that the friend is an inanimate object.

The Wrong Crowd is noted for its inventiveness and its successful integration of puppetry, pushing the boundaries of what theatre can be in our day and age. How as a puppet designer do you create pieces for each show?

I try and keep it simple. I love things morphing out of other things and constant reinvention. Trying to not be restricted and keeping different puppet styles open. In KITE we are using sort of traditional Bunraku puppets as small versions of actual people but also the kite is a puppet. It’s just a process of breathing life into objects and seeing what works out.

What inspired you to want to become a puppet designer and director?

I started as a theatre designer and through that started to do more and more puppetry. And through my design I love set and costume being very active and incorporating movement so through that really but I also think it sort of fell into it a bit as well.

What advice would you give to aspiring puppet designers?

Don’t do it! No I’m joking! I’d say see as much stuff as possible of lots of different styles and also remember a puppet doesn’t have to be an absolute replica of an existing thing or person. Get excited about different materials and how they can move and don’t be afraid of changing ideas even mid-way through. You will never know until you test things out. Have a rehearsal version and get the puppet in the room as soon as you can in the process because it informs so much and will give you loads more inspiration. The more you use a puppet from an early stage in making a show the better. Don’t get bogged down with mechanisms and keep it simple and concentrate on character.

Questions by Lucy Basaba for Theatre Full Stop

Rachael trained at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and since then has worked as a Set, Costume and Puppet Designer. Rachael is the co-director of The Wrong Crowd. As Set and Costume Designer: Swanhunter, Hag, The Girl with the Iron Claws (The Wrong Crowd, UK tour); Magical Night (Royal Opera House); Porn the Musical (Theatre503); Mad Forest (BAC); Hansel and Gretel, Beauty and the Beast, Sleeping Beauties, The Snow Tiger (Sherman Cymru); The Tailor’s Daughter (Welsh National Opera); Peter Grimes (Costume – Grand Theatre Geneva); and A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park). Puppet Design and Direction: Jungle book, Of Mice And Men (WYP); Swanhunter, Hag, The Girl with the Iron Claws (The Wrong Crowd); The City Madam (RSC); The Firebird (Dundee Rep); The Three Musketeers and the Princess of Spain (ETT/Traverse, Belgrade); Into the Woods (Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park /Public Theater, New York); The Red Balloon (Royal Opera House); Sleeping Beauty (Birmingham Rep).

KITE comes to Unity Theatre Tue 15 - Wed 16 March.  To book your seats click here!
Scott Fulton

Scott is the Unity's Digital Officer.