AWARD-WINNING writer Emma Reeves and Tutti Frutti artistic director Wendy Harris are working their magic on Hans Christian Andersen’s much-loved tale The Ugly Duckling in a new theatre show for children.

The Leeds company and regular partners York Theatre Royal are teaming up once more for a touring production of Ugly Duckling that opens in Theatre Royal Studio next Friday.

Renewing a creative partnership that worked so well for Snow Child in 2015/2016, Wendy and Emma have been planning this collaboration since last year. "Emma is very easy to work with, and in the children's theatre sector in particular, there are key writers who get regular work and Emma is one of them," says Wendy.

"It's nice to collaborate with a female writer and it's great to work with someone of Emma's calibre, as she has such a full range of fans from working for TV as well as in theatre – and she really 'gets' doing work for children."

In turn, Emma says: "It's great that Tutti Frutti and Wendy are so established and know exactly what they're doing in this area of theatre. The work I do for Tutti Frutti is for a younger audience, age three upwards, whereas most of my other work is six and seven year olds upwards, and I enjoy the difference.

"I just love how theatre is so collaborative, the way we did our research and development before we had anything planned at all – and we didn't have any actors involved in that. We just did it ourselves!"

Dropping "The" from the title, Ugly Duckling nevertheless remains the story of the baby ducklings' new brother not looking or quacking like a proper duckling. Teased and called Ugly by his siblings, our hero goes on an adventure in search of a place to fit in. As the woodland trees change from dark weathered branches to silver sticks of frost, the lost and lonely fledgling hides in brushwood and stares skyward at the migrating swans, yearning to belong and marvelling at their beauty. Where does he really belong?

York Press:

Ugly Duckling playwright Emma Reeves. Picture: Hannah Carter-Brown

Moving through all four seasons, Tutti Frutti and York Theatre Royal's production features a menagerie of mischievous animals, depicted through inventive physicality and live music that quacks and trills in a show that ponders the importance of identity and self-worth, taking the audience on a journey to discover inner beauty.

"Ugly Duckling is a classic story about families, identity and finding your place in the world," says Emma. "It’s funny, sad sometimes but ultimately uplifting."

Directed by Wendy Harris, with design by Catherine Chapman, movement by Holly Irving, music by Tayo Akinbode and puppets designed by Nick Ash, the play features a cast of Danny Childs, Daniel Naddafy and Maeve Leahy "We're experimenting with things in this production that we've never done before," says Wendy. "The puppetry element, for example, though I don't want to overstate that!"

"The puppetry was the answer to the question of how we were going to tell the story with a cast of three," says Emma.

"We have Nick Ash working with us for the first time after his work with Polka Theatre in London. He's designing the puppets, making them and animating them, directing the actors in how to use them," says Wendy. "It's a really particular skill, so to have someone of Nick's specialist talent working with our actors is a joy for us."

Tutti Frutti and York Theatre Royal's Ugly Duckling runs at York Theatre Royal from September 28 to October 14, then tours until the end of the year, ending with a season at London’s Albany Theatre from December 4 to 31. The show will later visit The Kids Fest in Hong Kong and Singapore, concluding on February 3. Suitable for age three upwards. York tickets cost £12, under 16s £7, on 01904 623568 or at

Did you know?

Tutti Frutti playwright Emma Reeves has just won the British Screenwriters Award for Best Children's Television for her CBBC shows Eve and Worst Witch.