Neil Cooper

When the founders of children's music theatre company The Singing Kettle, Archie Trezise and Cilla Fisher, announced in October that the much-loved company was set to close following a final tour of large-scale venues around Scotland, it marked the end of an era that began an astonishing thirty-two years ago. Before children of all ages could mutter so much as a 'Spout, handle, lid of metal', however, The Singing Kettle's final line-up of Kevin McLeod, Anya Scott-Rodgers and Gary Coupland announced the arrival of a brand new company called Funbox to keep the spirit of their former employers alive.

"We were having far to much fun doing what we do to stop doing it," Funbox co-founder McLeod explains of the decision to carry on beyond the company he has worked with for the last seventeen years, "so we decided to start our own company and do something similar. We think the work that The Singing Kettle has done in terms of keeping the tradition of Scottish playground songs alive is quite important, and that was the whole basis for starting the company in the first place. We want to continue with that, but we also recognise that it's a family show, so kids can see mummy and daddy being a bit silly as well"

As McLeod suggests, Funbox is a continuum of the work achieved by The Singing Kettle, with Coupland's involvement going right back to the founding of the fledgling company which he joined as a teenage musician. Yet, while the personnel will remain familiar along with at least one of the characters developed with The Singing Kettle, Funbox will also be a brand new adventure for all involved.

"The first question I asked Archie when he told us the news was can I have Bonzo," McLeod says, referring to the larger than life canine character played by himself in Singing Kettle shows, "because he's become an important part of the show. He's naughty and he's cheeky, and he really appeals to some of the older kids who come along. So we are in a sense jumping on a moving train fired by a certain momentum which The Singing Kettle had, but it's more than just a rebrand. It's a brand new company working from the ground up. I've been writing scripts for ten years and I'm used to behaving like a seven year old onstage, but dealing with the business side of things as well now can be quite scary."

Theatre for children in Scotland has shifted greatly over the last thirty years, before which it seemed like companies such as The Singing Kettle and later The Happy Gang were the only fun in town. The now globally recognised Imaginate festival of children's theatre changed the landscape considerably since it was originally set up as the Scottish Children's Theatre Festival. Since then, Imaginate has brought some of the best children's theatre companies from across the world to Scotland, while also nurturing and showcasing Scottish-based artists such as Shona Reppe and the Catherine Wheels company who can now also be considered to be world-class.

While Funbox make no claims to be cutting edge, McLeod and co are looking to engage their young audiences in a thoroughly modern manner.

"The Singing Kettle is quite traditional," McLeod points out. "Someone once described the company as panto without the boring bits, and that's what we're aiming to do with Funbox as well, but we're also keen to explore the social media side of things as well. We'd like to have extra filmed content on the Funbox Facebook page, and the apps market is something we'd like to get into as well. The basis of the company will always be live performance, but if there's more we can do afterwards that has a slight educational value, then that's something we'd like to explore, although we don't want to be preachy. Songs and silliness is how we like to bill ourselves, and that will always be at the heart of what Funbox is about."

While McLeod, Scott-Rodgers and Coupland are currently tour with The Singing Kettle's final show, Big Christmas Party, the first tour of Funbox's debut show, Pirates and Princesses, is already lined up for Spring 2015, with the opening date at the SSEC in Glasgow. Prior to that, Funbox will announce themselves to the world with a thirty-minute showcase as part of the forthcoming Celtic Connections 2015 festival in January, where they will perform on a bill alongside roots band Blazing Fiddles as part of the festival's series of schools concerts.

"We've been publicising what we're going to be doing with Funbox at the Singing Kettle shows," says McLeod, "and Archie's been very much up for us doing that. He was really pleased that we're doing it. He's been really supportive across the board, to the extent that when our Funbox flyers arrived for our first day of The Singing Kettle's Christmas run in Dundee, Archie said he'd go out front to make sure the ushers were handing them out."

Given the length of time the company that spawned them survived, can McLeod see Funbox still being around in thirty two years?

"I'd like to think that Funbox could continue," he says. "It's hard work jumping around onstage when it's just the three of you, but it does keep you young, and I'd like to think that if Funbox does become a success, that eventually the cast will change so the company stays constantly refreshed. The audience for The Singing Kettle has changed every few years as children have got older and younger children taken their place, and I'd like to think that we can do the same."

Funbox will perform at Celtic Connections as part of the schools concerts at the Royal Concert Hall, Glasgow on January 15 2015 at 11am.

Funbox's first full length show, Pirates and Princesses, opens at the SECC, Glasgow on March 1st, and will tour throughout the year.