Monkey Trousers Theatre is run by Bristol-based mums, Charlotte Whitten and Fran Lewis. The original story is written by Fran and she, with Charlotte, co-directs and perform in the show. Charlotte who has trained with outstanding names in puppetry has designed fantastic visuals for the show to bring the adventures of Mr. Gotalot and his shop alive for children in the audience.
When Fran was a young girl, she thought getting a book published was as easy as merely sending it to a publisher and politely requesting that they please publish it. Years later, she now knows that to be completely wrong. It’s very, very difficult to get your writing published, so in the meantime, Fran is determined to bring her over-active imagination to life by producing plays for children. Fran has an MA distinction in Creative Writing. She also (sporadically) writes a blog, and is working with her agent on developing a series of books for readers aged 5 – 7 years old.
Fran has been acting in non-professional theatre for many years. She is a member of the Kelvin Players, which is where she met Charlotte. After seeing the Kelvin production of James and the Giant Peach in 2014, which was really very good, Fran spent a great deal of time thinking, ‘why aren’t there more plays for children in Bristol?’ and also, ‘could I write a play for children?’ After chatting to Charlotte about those particular notions, they both decided it could be done, and Monkey Trousers Theatre was formed. The concept of Mr Gotalot’s Gotalot Shop quickly followed. Fran is especially looking forward to playing the villain Ms Barnet, not least because it involves some extraordinary hairstyles.
Fran feels extremely lucky to be part of a community of such talented and generous people. Running a theatre company is a bit out of her comfort zone, but she is enjoying every moment. Fran hopes that Monkey Trousers Theatre will flourish within the Bristol creative scene, and ultimately, instil a love of theatre and storytelling in children.
As a young child, Charlotte’s first ever crush and TV idol was Fozzie Bear of Jim Henson’s Muppet Show. Saturday nights could not have been more exciting. The comedy, the camaraderie, the pathos. Truly a bear to be admired.
On growing up, Fozzie was ever the inspiring force behind her choices. Diving head first into a new challenge, Charlotte’s performance life started out in stand-up comedy on the New Act circuit in London. Exhilarated but terrified by the experience she moved into sketch comedy and sitcom writing, which lead to her becoming a shortlisted writer in the 1997 Channel Four Sitcom Writing Competition.
On moving to Bristol, she was distracted for eight years working in production at the BBC Natural History Unit. Not as funny a career as she had imagined. Yes, there were bears, but they weren’t telling jokes.
So moving on, she began to tread the boards again, appearing in a number of highly successful productions with the Kelvin Players Theatre Company. It was here that she met the fantabulous actor and writer Fran Lewis, and was reacquainted with her childhood love of puppetry in the sell-out Kelvin production of James and the Giant Peach. Charlotte was responsible for the making and performing of the puppets in this show, featuring most prominently as the Glow-worm.
After Peach, Charlotte threw herself back into the puppet world, attending workshops with Wendy Froud (she made Yoda! Whah!) and Marc Parrett (101 Dalmatians for Tobacco Factory Theatre). Charlotte continues to train with Marc as an alumnus of the Bath Puppet Workshop.
Monkey Trousers Theatre was born of a conversation Charlotte and Fran got lost in, while attending a children’s drama class with their toddlers. And so became the fantastic imaginings of Mr Gotalot’s Shop. Long may his doors remain open.