Shedlight Stories: Around the World with Nellie Bly

25 07 2022

Katie Overstall as Nellie Bly in 'Around the World with Nellie Bly' 2 (1)

theSpace @ Surgeons' Hall,

August 5 -20 (not 14):10.55am

by Gareth K Vile

“Nothing is impossible if one applies a certain amount of energy in the right direction”

The year is 1889 and 25-year-old Nellie Bly is the toast of the New York journalism scene. She has already gone undercover in a mental institute; uncovered corrupt politicians; broken up a child-smuggling ring; and put herself in personal danger to catch a coachman assaulting young women, but ahead lies her greatest adventure yet.

Join Nellie as she travels around the world racing against Jules Verne’s famous hero, Phileas Fogg. In an adventure that captures the imagination of the world, she traverses continents, adopts a monkey, and even tries eating curry! Will she triumph against ocean storms, snowed-in trains, and men who think they know better, to prove that it is possible to make it around the world in under eighty days?

Around the World with Nellie Bly is a one-woman show that uses Bly’s own account to bring to life this incredible, little-known story of a pioneering woman. Using puppetry, audience interaction, and a host of colourful characters we aim to inspire young audiences with the story of this courageous and driven young woman; show them the importance of self-reliance and self-belief in the face of adversity; and prove that adventure stories aren’t just for boys.

Can you tell me a little about the inspiration for your show?

KATIE: Our show tells the true story of Nellie Bly, an intrepid journalist from the late 19th century, who (amongst other amazing things) set out on a journey around the world to beat Phileas Fogg's fictional record from Jules Verne's book, Around the World in 80 Days.

NELL: Bly is such an inspirational figure, but one who is not well known, especially in the UK. As a company, our aim is to shed light on true stories from history to educate, entertain, and to inspire, and Nellie Bly's life certainly fit the bill. We were drawn to this adventure in particular because it had scope for a lot of fun, with big characters, an exciting and challenging journey, and even a monkey!

KATIE: We wanted to aim it at children between the ages of 6 and 12, especially young girls in this age range, as this is known to be when they begin to lose confidence in themselves.

NELL: Both Nellie and our show set out to show the importance of self-reliance and self-belief in the face of adversity and prove that adventure stories aren't just for boys.

What role do your puppets play in the production, and why did you decide to use them?

NELL: The main puppet in our show is a long-tailed macaque monkey called McGinty made by the amazing Shaun Lati. He is an important part of our story, providing a friend for Nellie to confide in and lean on during her journey. Nellie really did adopt a monkey in Singapore on her trip, so we knew we had to include him in the show somehow. It soon became clear that he would be a large part of the show and puppetry would provide an excellent way to bring him to life for our audiences. KATIE: During our R&D process McGinty developed a life of his own and became vital to the narrative of our story; he helps and encourages Nellie, interacts with the audience, and even comes up with plans of his own!

NELL: Because we made the decision early on in the play's development that, like the real Nellie Bly, everything that we used in the show should come out of Nellie's bag, we also use a lot of object manipulation in the show, creating other creatures and props out of the items that she took with her.

Is this work typical of your productions, and do you have a particular dramaturgical approach to making theatre?

KATIE: I feel that puppets are a really valuable tool for theatre makers that shouldn't be overlooked when telling stories.

NELL: Katie and I have worked together on several shows before and puppets do often pop up! We've found them to be very effective whether the show is for children or not.

KATIE: Puppets can break the bounds of human limitation, while still being physically present in a space, expanding the possibilities of storytelling. My approach to theatre is to always keep one eye on the audience in order to tell the story in a way that creates the best experience for them and I have certainly used puppets in the past to do this. My favourite of these is probably the 7ft Xenomorph puppet that I made for the finale of a comedic retelling of the film Alien.

And do you feel that the Fringe is a good place for your work? What are you hoping to experience?

NELL: This is Shedlight's first show and we are really looking forward to using the Fringe as a way to introduce ourselves as a company, especially after having to postpone premiering the show for 2 years due to Covid

KATIE: We can't wait to meet up with other theatre makers, make new connections, and see what everyone is bringing to Edinburgh this year.