The best show in town this season

posted in: Stephen Mackey | 18

Over the Christmas holidays M and J decided they wanted to create a show for the family, and Pushka by Stephen Mackey was chosen as the basis for the production.

With all the elements of a fairy tale (an enchanted wood, a trapped heroine, a terrifying giant, a sprinkling of magic, kindness from animals and a love story) Pushka is a story to capture the imagination. There’s just the right amount of adrenalin and fear (Will the giant get his way? Will Lulu, the giant’s harp-playing ballerina of a puppet be able to escape?), made bearable by the beauty and wonder of the setting and a joke or two to relieve the tension (Pushka is, after all, a circus clown).

The illustrations have a dream-like quality about them with lots of soft-focus, pastel tones. The story is great fun to read aloud, with opportunities to make silly noises, to sing, and to growl. The storytelling itself has quite a cinematic feel; the events unfold in the present tense, and the pacing of the story times points of tension with page turns to perfection.

In fact, it turns out that Stephen Mackey has created an animation of Pushka which you can watch here. It isn’t identical to the book (and I don’t know which was created first), but both formats share a lot of elegance, charm and magic.

Hopefully the animation will inspire you to seek out the book. It’s an enchanting fairy story told with pace, simplicity and grace.


So here’s how M and J turned Pushka into their play. Of course there were billboards advertising the show:

Tickets and programmes were printed to sell:

We had to create a water squirting flower for Pushka to use to try to dampen the fire. We used this tutorial as our guide:

Here’s our finished flower (it worked amazingly well!):

The stage was set with trees made from huge cardboard rolls (Thanks Grandpa!) with paper cone branches taped on. Plenty of sparkly lights and glittery snowflakes (instead of the stars in the book) completed the scene with just the right hint of wintery-ness.

We used a brio train to represent the circus caravan:

Casting was made a little more complicated by the fact that both girls wanted to be Lulu. This was solved by having an intermission half way through the play when they swapped roles and costumes.

I played the mean old giant, and we took the curtain call all together.

We prepared a soundtrack for our play:

  • Entry of the Gladiators – the archetypal circus music, to open and close our play.
  • An excerpt from Handel’s Harp Concerto in B Flat – for when Lulu first appears and dances in the forest.
  • Suspiria by Goblin – magical sounding music for when Lulu and Pushka dance together (don’t be put off by the weird album cover).
  • Mouse nibbling soundtrack – for when Lulu’s bonds are nibbled through by the mice.

  • Other activities which would be fun to try alongside reading Pushka include:

  • Making your own circus caravan, perhaps with these covered wagons as a starting point.
  • Making your own puppets – Lulu is initially a marionette controlled by the giant. We have a favourite puppet making book full of super ideas, but here’s a good tutorial from PBS for a marionette made from a toilet roll!
  • Making a felt flower badge – Pushka’s squirts water, but you could just make one for decoration. Here are some tutorials from Infarrantly Creative, Mrs Priss, and (my favourite) from OliArt.

  • Did you or your kids put on a show over Christmas? Did you go to see a show as a family?
    Oh, and if you’re a (fairly) regular reader of the blog and haven’t left a comment on yesterday’s post, please head on over there and do so!

    Disclosure: I received my copy of this book from the publisher. This review, however, remains my own and honest opinion.

    18 Responses

    1. Zoe

      Thank you Karen, Stacey, Sanhdya and Claire, we had a lot of fun with this as you can see πŸ™‚

    2. Library Mice

      I love Pushka! Can I email your link to Ellie (who is in exec but also works for Hachette)? I am sure she’d love to see this!

    3. choxbox

      Lovely and brill ideas as usual (I will never tire of saying tho sot you Zoe!)

    4. Actually Mummy...

      That looks completely gorgeous! Are you the best Mummy in town? You must be because my two put on a show (or several) for us at Christmas but it looked nothing like that πŸ˜‰ Have never done the book but will have a look. Am looking for new inspiration for my kids
      Actually Mummy… recently posted..A New Blog on the Block

    5. Zoe

      I have to admit, Actually Mummy, that I got rather into the whole stage design thing for this little production. I could easily imagine another life making sets and costumes esp if I could have the carpentry and sewing skills to go with it.

    6. choxbox

      Zoe – have you heard of Margaret Mahy’s The Five Sisters? found it in book seconds shop today and my 6-year old read it non-stop till she was done with it and declared it fabulous. It is about a chain of paper dolls – haven’t read it yet myself but as soon as I read the blurb I thought of what YOU would do with it, you’d think up so many interesting activities to go with it.

    7. Zoe

      Hi Choxbox, I know Mahy, but not this particular book so thanks v much for tip. Fortunately it’s in our library system so I’ve just put in a reservation. I’ll let you know when it arrives and how we get on with it πŸ™‚
      Zoe recently posted..The best show in town this season

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