Emily meets Olivia Jacobs of Tall Stories

Editor Emily speaks to Olivia Jacobs, one half of the duo behind popular children’s theatre company Tall Stories.

The week after I chat to Olivia, I meet her in person at the fifteenth birthday party for the stage adaptation of the Gruffalo, complete with original and current casts and the book’s creators, Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler (together, above). Olivia’s co-artistic director, Toby Mitchell, is on stage reminding us that the three year olds who first saw the orange eyed, purple prickled monster on stage are now doing their A levels. As a mum of a boy almost of that vintage, I find I am brushing away the tears. 

The stage adaptation has played the Sydney Opera House, Shanghai, Broadway and is back in the West End for a summer run. Its phenomenal success has obviously been helped by the book but it is its own creation, honed and revised over time. Olivia says that Julia has always been very giving. She says all the authors she has worked with have had a similar approach, “I write the books, but you do the theatre.” Children come to the shows with an expectation and knowledge of the rhymes but she says now kids also have the experience of the animated versions.

Tall Stories is of course more than Donaldson/Scheffler collaborations. Olivia says she loved working with Cressida Cowell on the adaptations of the Emily Brown books and recalls Neil Layton, the book’s illustrator’s, when he first saw the stage show: ‘Its’ all 3D!’. She says she would love to do another Lemony Snickett adaptation and, while she doesn’t want to name a favourite, she has a particularly soft spot for Mr Benn (above). It was one she had wanted to do for a long time and exemplifies her view of theatre: “You can open a door into another world simply by putting on a different hat.”

While she has loved the thrill of big venues, Edinburgh will always be the company’s spiritual home. Tall Stories are back north of the border this summer with a show for older kids (8+) that will preview at the Fringe and then tour into schools. Called Future Perfect, it is about a 10 year old boy who wants to travel back in time and fix things. The Autumn tour of schools will be free and London schools are encouraged to apply to have the company visit. She speaks passionately about how important it is to give kids access to this type of work saying that it is becoming harder and harder to take schools to theatres. It is clear that the fact that the phenomenal success of the shows can enable her to do something like this is incredibly satisfying.

Olivia’s Hot List

Favourite kids’ museums: The Science Museum, the Natural History a close second.

Favourite London outing: A trip to Greenwich by boat to see the Observatory and the market stalls.

Theatre: Although she says she generally sees tiny shows, a few of which are ‘bonkers’ a recent hit was A Comedy about a Bank Robbery at the Criterion ‘really good fun’. And, of course, ‘We LOVED Matilda.’

By her bed: Time Travelling with a Hamster by Ross Welford. Like her new show, it is about time travel.

Click here to book tickets to Future Perfect.