The wonderful thing about dance, compared to spoken theatre, is that it opens up meaning in a different way,”
Tom Roden tells me. As co-founder of Anatomical, a performance company which produces work brimming in creativity and shared experiences, he knows how to spark the power of imagination. “It works really well for a family show, there is a different level of interpretation.”
Anatomical are about to tour their hit show Snowed In again this winter. Using spoken word and movement, it transports audiences to a hotel high up in the mountains where imaginations run wild. Every member comes from a dance background, which Roden tells me has allowed them all to become more open to abstract ways of expressing narratives. “We’ve managed to find that balance, where the meaning is open but there is a lot of internal logic which helps you along through the story.”
Originally commissioned by London’s The Place and Mold’s Theatr Clwyd, Snowed In introduces us to two children. One morning they wake, and find they’re cut off from the outside world. “These two children play a game of make-believe. They invent a hotel… and all the world ends up in there. In doing so, they create a couple of imaginary friends who come along for the ride.” It’s far removed from the Overlook Hotel or the Linton Travel Tavern. This is a place of magic and adventure, where there are no adults to stop them running down corridors, jumping on beds or having huge snowball fights. Aimed at ages 5+, it blends contemporary dance, simple spoken word and audience participation to encourage everyone to share in the joys of make-believe.
“I’ve tried to imagine what a hotel means in a child’s mind. It’s a place where you might go on holiday, but there’s also people working there along with all the machinations keeping it running.” The magical and mysterious building they constructed offers all the fun, excitement and adventure the youngsters are looking for. Accompanying the action is sound design and an original score by Gareth Ellis Williams, which blends beautiful, emotional music with festive sounds of the village around them. Best known for his work on film and TV, Anatomical constantly records scenes which he works on in his studio. “He brings it back and it perfectly fits what we’re doing, which is a major joy. His colouring of frames is everything we do.”
One memorable scene during Snowed In involves a selection of overworked pillows who are demanding a day off and more feathers. “Then a pillow fight ensues. He’s done the music with loads of sound effects on top. We ran that scene with the dancers and they were laughing their heads off. It really syncs with what they were doing.” Elsewhere, the children find themselves falling down a laundry chute and ending up on a toboggan. “We use the music from Ski Sunday, which is a brilliant piece of dynamic, exciting music. The children might not get the reference… but they get the idea straight away.”
On their exploration, the children eventually find the mysterious Room Zero. The youngest needs to go inside and face something which might be scary – but will get through it with the support of her friends. “It’s about growing up really. We started writing and conceiving it when our daughter transferred from primary to secondary school. So, it was about how young people deal with change.”
Now in its third year, they’re bringing this spell-binding winter production to venues across the country. Calling in on places like Salford and Leeds, they also visit Brighton’s newly-refurbished Corn Exchange on Weds 13 – Sun 17 Dec. “It’s going to be brilliant. Audiences are going to love being in that massive room. We’ve got such a fantastic lighting design, which needs to be in a big space. And it’s got that Alpine feel which is perfect.” He says it’s always good to be touring at this time of year, especially a show which is unashamedly festive themed. Whether they celebrate Christmas or not, audiences still want to go out and see something at this time of year. “We wanted to make something which was traditional and fitted into their expectations for a show at this time of year. Something that’s magical and special, which feels like you’ve been enriched by something funny and charming.”
Roden brings up the timeless George Bernard Shaw quote: “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” He suggests that playing and being imaginative can bring many benefits, regardless of how old you might be. It might be founded in fun, but it can also help you re-examine interactions and develop fresh attitudes. But there do need to be some loose rules in theatre to stop it descending into chaos. “Theatre shows do have the ability to make jumps and shifts, but if the logic breaks, you’ll never get it back. It’s like science fiction. Sometimes it absolutely makes sense, because it all fits together and you believe it all comes from place. But sometimes, it jumps in time or brings things back from the dead, and you start losing trust in the storyteller. And it stops being fun when you feel like any old thing can happen.”
Roden formed Anatomical in 2014 with his partner, Anna Williams. The name is a portmanteau – which I only realise halfway through our conversation. They started straight away with the concept of producing safe and welcoming work where the audience became part of the action. Snowed In forms the third part of an interactive trilogy, joining The Buildy-uppy Dance Show, where participants make the set from cardboard boxes, and The Doodle Dance Show, which sat everyone around a big piece of paper to draw and influence the storytelling. This show sees half the audience as guests at the hotel, while the rest pretend to be its staff. “We want to encourage audiences to join in and feel like they’ve been part of something creative. Hopefully they can go home and continue that.”
Anatomical’s Snowed In comes to Brighton’s newly-refurbished Corn Exchange on Weds 13 – Sun 17 Dec.