Cassie Vallance is no stranger to York Theatre Royal both as a storyteller in the Story Craft Theatre children’s sessions and an adult theatre workshop practitioner. But The Storm Whale, the Christmas show in the Studio, marks the first time she’s actually performed in a production at the theatre.
“I’m very familiar with the space. I’ve been here a lot and seen a lot of shows. Now I’m very pleased to be doing a show that both my kids can come and watch,” she says.
Her children, aged four and one, are the reason she knows the books by Benji Davies – The Storm Whale and The Storm Whale in Winter – that have been turned into a stage play by director Matt Aston.
“I have two boys so I read the books a lot. I knew Grandad’s Island by Benji Davies as well. I do storytelling at the theatre and the first one I did was The Storm Whale in Winter.”
Cassie plays Noi, a boy who lives with his Dad and their six cats by the sea. One day Noi rescues a little whale washed up on the beach during a storm and a friendship begins that changes their lives forever.
As in all good children’s theatre there are big issues featured. “It’s very much about the importance of belonging and relationships and not feeling lonely. Sometimes people are lonely even in the busiest crowded room,” explains Cassie.
“Noi is a sweet young boy who is very excitable when it comes to treasure hunting on the beach. He cares very much for his dad, but isn’t necessarily in a relationship where they talk all the time. He’s very passionate about finding friends, a bit awkward but very lovable.
“And yes, I’m a grown woman playing a 10-year-old boy.”
Ask her to sum up Noi in three words and she replies: “Endearing, awkward, thoughtful.”
In addition to three actors – Julian Hoult and Géhane Strehler are the others – the cast includes a number of puppets. There’s a whale of course plus seagulls, a cat called Sandwich and even a small puppet Noi.
“Puppets change everything,” she says. “And when you see a puppet being worked well you get completely absorbed and lose the person behind it.”
She doesn’t feel there should be any difference between working on adult theatre and children’s theatre. What she doesn’t like is going to see family shows that are patronising to kids. “A lot of the time children have a much great understanding than we give them credit for. Kids are really tuned in, especially on this big emotional stuff,” she explains.
Her message to would-be theatregoers about The Storm Whale production is come if you know the story because it’s “absolutely adorable” and will be lovely to see it come off the page. And if you don’t know the books, there are lots of important themes that will touch a chord not just for children but for parents and carers as well. It is, she declares, “a really lovely, hot chocolatey, yummy jam sandwich Christmas show.”
Cassie’s first time acting on the Theatre Royal stage but not her first time acting in York. During the summer she was part of the acting company at Shakespeare’s Rose Theatre playing an absolutely hilarious Fabian in Twelfth Night and Guildenstern in Hamlet. “It was absolutely brilliant and I had the most fantastic time doing it,” she says.
“I was very fortunate. My other half and I are both actors and got the opportunity to do the show. I had a whale of a time – no pun intended. It was lovely to see people come and getting so much out of it. I got to be an absolute clown which I loved doing.”