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Insect research informs play

The Vanishing Act

Published on: 2 May 2023

A new show exploring the bug world as never seen before is being created by Cap-a-Pie theatre company with young people and a Newcastle University scientist.

Primary school children will work with animal behaviour researcher, Dr Vivek Nityananda and Cap-a-Pie theatre company on a new cabaret show exploring the insect world.

Dr Nityananda is a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) David Phillips researcher at the Centre for Behaviour and Evolution and the Biosciences Institute research fellow at Newcastle University. He says: “I’ve always been fascinated with the different abilities of insects and my research now is trying to find out how they see and interact with the world. With this play I’m trying to share some of that wonder but also talk about how insect populations are at risk from the chemicals we use and habitat loss. These threats to our essential and often overlooked insect populations gave us the idea for the title, The Vanishing Act.

“Working with Cap-a-Pie and engaging a wide variety of audiences, from children to adults, has been inspiring. It allows findings from insect research to come to life and connect with people in a meaningful way.”

His research which involved fitting miniature glasses on praying mantises, revealed a new form of 3D vision that could lead to simpler visual processing for robots. It has featured in the New York Times, Time Magazine and National Geographic TV.

'bug eyed' - praying mantis wearing 3D glasses

"passionate about the environment"

Cap-a-Pie has built a reputation for creative collaborations with universities and schools, working with academics and experts alongside their local communities to create touring theatre productions.

For the company behind the award-winning Climate Change Catastrophe! shown at COP26, this new project aims to bring the latest research to life.

Newcastle University has a long track record of working with Cap-a-Pie to ensure that research is accessible to a wide audience through creative and engaging theatre.

Cap-a-Pie Artistic Director Brad McCormick explains: “After collaborating with young people on Climate Change Catastrophe we’re really excited to be back in the classroom to make The Vanishing Act. Primary school students are passionate about the environment, fascinated by insects, and have the capacity to be both wildly imaginative and incredibly profound. We’re also looking forward to creating another show with the environment at its heart. Cap-a-Pie is committed to learning how we can be as sustainable as possible both on and off-stage.”

Jack Gardner a teacher at Hotspur Primary School in Heaton, Newcastle adds: “Our students are becoming increasingly aware of the ongoing environmental changes throughout the world, so we're really looking forward to being part of this project. An opportunity to collaborate on a play about insects will enable them to explore this timely and fascinating subject in a creative and playful way.

“Having collaborated on Climate Change Catastrophe - where our students worked with climate scientists, engineers and theatre makers to develop ideas designed to tackle the climate crisis - we know that we can rely on Cap-a-Pie for their inclusive approach to drama, as well as academic rigour.”

Director Brad McCormick is joined by a professional creative team including cabaret advisor Laura Corcoran, who has been creating work in cabaret for 15 years across the UK and around the world. Best known for her musical comedy double-act 'Frisky & Mannish', Laura has also become an established cabaret artiste and MC in her own right, appearing with Olivier Award-winning show La Soiree in the UK, Denmark, and Australia.

Costume designer Imogen Melhuish recently designed Kitchen Zoo’s touring family cabaret show, Hey Diddle Diddle. Original music is by Jeremy Bradfield who has written and performed music in a number of family shows including The Emperor’s New Clothes, The Snow Queen and Alice in Wonderland at Northern Stage. More recently, he performed in Hey Diddle Diddle, Kitchen Zoo’s Christmas nursery rhyme cabaret, and is currently leading songwriting workshops in primary schools with New Writing North.

Cap-a-Pie will work with Relish theatre and incorporate best practise from the Theatre Green Book and Julie’s Bicycle to make the show as environmentally friendly as possible, including plans for a hyperlocal tour to local schools, theatres and community spaces. In order to make the show as accessible as possible, all performances will have integrated audio description and British Sign Language.

Dr Nityananda with praying mantis


To book free tickets to see a work in progress performance at the Star and Shadow Cinema on 26 May, or to find out more visit the Cap-a- pie website 

(Adapted with thanks to Cap-a-pie theatre company)


Praying mantis in 3D glasses

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