Tomasin Cuthbert Menes is artistic director and producer of Soap Soup Theatre, one third of the theatre company Lady Strong’s Bonfire, a fine artist and a teacher of yoga. She is deeply passionate about making beautiful, original visual theatre for children and their families. We caught up with her to find out where her passion for puppet theatre began and about her latest performance in development, ‘The Selfish Giant.’
How did you get into puppetry theatre? Why puppets?
I saw Jan Svankmajers ‘Alice’ when I was about 10 years old. Dad videoed it, as it was on late at night on Channel 4. I can safely say it totally blew my mind, and I wanted to create work like that ever since. I have always loved animation and for a time thought I would train as an animator, but live work appeals to me more. Partly, I think, because of the romance of working in theatre, but also a direct experience between humans, right here right now, is always going to be more meaningful than watching something on a screen.
Puppetry has always appealed to me because I have so much more control over the world I am creating for my audiences. I can weave magic, create huge spaces, characters can fly, transform, really do anything right in front of the audience’s eyes. The only limit is my imagination, and I find that really exciting.
How did Soap Soup Theatre get started? How has the company developed? Who have you collaborated with?
I came up with the idea of Soap Soup Theatre when I was working in a call centre aged 22, bored out of my mind and sneakily designing puppets under my desk between calls! My friend Davinia and I made up a character called Minny Stynker while we were working there, and she became the star of Soap Soup’s first show, as well as the character in our logo.
Davinia went on to become an amazing primary school teacher (and has got us in to run workshops and do shows in her school – thanks Davinia!). I started Soap Soup Theatre in earnest after re-training at The Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. I met Adam Fuller whilst working on a Stuff and Nonsense show with Marc Parrett, and we decided we wanted to have a go at making a show together. We have collaborated on almost every Soap Soup show since. In recent years I have started working with lots of amazing artists, including Ed Rapley – the clown and fool, and my husband Chris Menes, who is my composer. I’m looking forward to rehearsing Jenny Davies from Propolis Theatre into my solo show, ‘The Snow Baby’ this Autumn.
Can you tell us about your latest show, ‘The Selfish Giant’? How did the idea come about? Where can audiences catch a performance?
I am teaming up with Tessa Bide for our newest show, ‘The Selfish Giant’, which opens in London at The Omnibus, Clapham this Christmas and then goes on to tour nationally. Check out our websites for dates as we are adding to the tour all the time. It’s a reimagining of the famous story by Oscar Wilde, where we find out why the giant wants to be left alone and dislikes children so much, and what the children are hiding from in the giant’s garden. It’s a contemporary take on the story, with two women playing the giant and the child. We are switching genders from the original to give it a fresh perspective. It will be what audiences are coming to expect from our work – colourful, touching, funny, with beautiful designs and meaningful relationships between the themes of the show and the audience’s lives outside the theatre.
What’s next? What’s in the the pipeline?
We are bringing ‘The Pixies’ Scarf’ AND ‘The Snow Baby’ to The Wardrobe Theatre in the coming months, and are very happy to be coming back to our favourite venue. I am going to be rehearsing Jenny Davies into the show, and it will be first time I get to watch my own show! Soap Soup are expanding, as we are sending three shows out this year, so it’s an exciting time. Jenny will be taking ‘The Snow Baby’ to Taunton for a week’s run at The Brewhouse this Christmas and then on to do a short tour including the Half Moon in London. I am also looking for a Co-Producer to work with, so hopefully Soap Soup Theatre will become more sustainable and be able to expand and reach farther, bringing delicious family theatre and fantastic participation projects to audiences all over the country and beyond.
To find out more about Tomasin and her latest performances, events and workshops, visit the Soap Soup website: https://www.soapsouptheatre.com and the Lady Strong’s Bonfire website: http://ladystrongsbonfire.co.uk. Join her mailing list for updates here.