Explore The Tinderbox

An introduction to The Tinderbox by director Lisa Gregan

Tinderbox: A metal box for holding tinder and usually a flint and steel for creating a spark and/or a potentially explosive place or situation

The Tinderbox by Hans Christian Andersen is just seven pages long, but the questions it raises and leaves unanswered are what make this story ripe to devise with. What initially drew me to the story was the exciting combination of a War, a Soldier, a Princess and magic. I was attracted to the dual worlds of fantasy and reality, but also to themes that are both timeless and relevant to the world that we live in now - from the brutality and reasons for war, to the valuing of women based on their appearance. This story has allowed us to investigate the past, the present and the possibilities of ‘what if’.

The Tinderbox has been devised by Young Company, and the material beautifully crafted and written by Silva Semerciyan. Working in this way has allowed the creative freedom of exploration and devising, with the anchor of a writer to bring it all together. Everything that you see on stage (and much more) has come from the cast; a fearless and wonderfully creative ensemble of young theatre makers.

We have thrown (and caught) chairs, jumped rhythmically in formations, talked of powerful women and tyrannical men. We have sung The White Stripes at the top of our lungs, and spent mornings in the dark playing with matches. We have done all of this together and created a story, and a world, that we now want to share with you.

A note about the adaptation by Silva Semerciyan

When I used to imagine an adaptation project, I always pictured myself pouring over a lengthy novel and then soldiering through an almost as lengthy process of condensation and distillation. In the case of The Tinderbox, it has been the opposite.

We began with a seven page story. A good story, but one that would need expansion. The fun of adapting outward is that there is plenty of space for flights of imagination but with a seaworthy carrier to return to. The source can be adjusted to serve one’s own purposes whilst remaining entirely recognisable. When The Tinderbox was written back in 1835, Hans Christian Andersen’s Denmark was a very different place to now, with an absolute monarch on the throne and the kind of poverty that could impose mortal penalties. Yet we found that there were parallels with our own world.  As long as there are soldiers and wars, the central character will continue to be sympathetic. As long as money rules the world, the plot will continue to be relevant.

The best part of the writing process has been that it was not just my imagination at work but those of the eighteen Young Company actors and creative team. Every single voice has contributed to the creation of the text, and each person has inspired me.

A reflective statement by Krista Matthews

The Tinderbox was my first show with Young Company, and I strongly remember that the casting workshop clashed with when Waterloo Road was on. Gutted. But I got over it. 

Before The Tinderbox, the only headstrong, intelligent and witty characters I had played were men (classic). I had never considered that creating a character for myself was even an option, but the devising process of this piece allowed that and more. As a young person, being able to collaborate with other members of Young Company as well as professional practitioners was an invaluable experience, and still shapes the way I work today. 

The Tinderbox is magic. Really magic. There are dogs made by (namedrop) Handspring puppetry company and fire. What more could you want? 

The original marketing materials

Every show needs to have an audience, and each show has a variety of materials produced to help us get one. This will include a key image, a poster, a trailer, a flyer and a programme, among lots of other things.

Some provocations

The following are some provocations inspired by The Tinderbox. If you do create a response to this show, we'd love to see what you make. You can email them to us here, or tag us on Twitter (@BristolOldVic) or Instagram (@bristololdvic1766). Or, feel free not to share and to just be creative for yourself.

  • Find a story you want to adapt: When do you want it to be set? Where do you want to set it? What style/genre is your piece? Let your imagination take you wherever it wants to.
  • Write a theatrical pitch: A pitch is basically putting your ideas and concept on paper in order to try to get a theatre to commission it. Who might your creative team be? Where would you like to stage it? Who would you like to be in it?
  • Compose a musical theme for the story. 
  • Write a monologue for one of the characters, telling the audience a secret that they have never shared before. 
  • Write a blurb for the show: This is the piece of text that you will see on a flyer, in a brochure, on a website that is telling your audience what to expect whilst trying to sell the show. Have a look through our website for some examples.
  • Make a trailer for your adaptation.

For extra sources of inspiration, you could research other adaptations Bristol Old Vic has made, including: Jane Eyre, A Monster Calls, or Touching the Void.