Beastie, Attenborough Centre for Creative Arts, University of Sussex, Falmer, April 11 and 12, 10am, 1pm, 4pm

Looking for something a bit different to do with your children this Easter holiday? Why not try Beastie, the interactive theatre experience involving a furry friend. Gwen Van Spijk told Edwin Gilson about the project.

How do the children interact with Beastie, exactly? Can they communicate with it in a variety of ways?

Beastie is mute but is nonetheless very good at communicating in other ways. The children and Beastie learn about each other through playing together, sharing experiences and exchanging information – Beastie has very sharp ears and eyes so the children can soon pick up on what makes Beastie happy, sad, cross, upset or hungry.

Does Beastie itself represent anything, or is it more a vehicle for children to express themselves?

Beastie is a visitor to the neighbourhood where the children live, so Beastie is very much a means of the children sharing their world with a new friend. Because the children don’t know why Beastie has come to visit them or where he has come from it is an opportunity for them to imagine what Beastie’s background story is – so Beastie is a springboard for the children to use their imaginations and devise stories.

Were you keen to put the children’s imagination at the forefront and let them be on the front foot, rather than approach it in a more conventional storytelling way?

Yes, we set out from the beginning to put children in the driving seat; we have given them some basic ingredients to use but it’s really their imaginations which create Beastie. One soon realises that they imagine wonderful things – anything is possible for them simply because their minds aren’t crowded out with all the reasons why things can’t be a certain way. There’s a purity of thought.

Did you do any market research, for want of a less clinical term, when you were trying to decide what children want from a performance?

We did several action research projects to test out our ideas on different age groups, and at what point children start to become teenagers and the seeds of cynicism and loss of interest in play begin to manifest.

In your writing for children’s TV, have you seen the desires and sensibilities of children change over a short space of time, with the advancement of technology and social media?

Whilst some of the things that children refer to have changed – they might now suggest Beastie has a mobile phone for instance – their desires and sensibilities haven’t really changed at all: their desire to play a simple game like tag or hide and seek; their wanting to make friends and be part of something; their delight at being in on a secret and creating their own world – something that the adult’s don’t know about. These things are a constant and haven’t changed.

Is there anything in the show for adults? You say that there is a “surprise” in store for them…

If I told you what the surprise was it wouldn’t be a surprise! Aside from the secret though, Beastie has a wonderful ability to enable anyone whatever their age to reconnect with the child they once were.