Dahl’s book re-imagined by students as stage play

Sarah Pressley

Mute characters will manipulate the world around a young woman as she falls in and out of love in “The Man With the Dancing Eyes.” She discovers love, heartbreak and, eventually, a happy ending in a beloved children’s book brought to life in a virtual new world.

“The Man With the Dancing Eyes,” a play based on a book of the same name by Sophie Dahl, depicts a modern-day fairy tale as told by a group of UT students from the Department of Theatre and Dance.

“[The show] follows Pierre, a young woman from an elite and eclectic breeding,” director Courtney Sale said. “Pierre falls in love, has her heart broken and sets off to make a new life for herself in New York.”

The play was adapted by the students from Dahl’s illustrated picture book. They originally planned to put on a different play but ended up changing their minds when they found out another group would be performing the same show a few weeks later. “The Man With the Dancing Eyes” was an old favorite of the set designer and one of the actors, so the group decided to adapt this story for the stage instead.

The group had originally planned to perform the story as a puppet show, but decided that live action worked better. However, they maintained some elements of manipulating the objects on the stage.

“Our initial plan was to build a puppet play and serve as the operators,” Sale said. “When we began rehearsing, we discovered that using puppets limited our storytelling options. We maintained many puppetry details, though, and grew from there.”

By using the ideas of puppets who manipulate the characters and objects on stage, the group hoped to create a uniquely visual experience. Two of the characters on stage function as Charlie Chaplin-esque characters who do not speak, but manipulate and move the world around Pierre.

“We wanted to do something very visual and less about acting, but really about objects and how we sort of move through this world using objects,” Doyle said. “It’s definitely snowballed into something very different than what it started as.”

The cast and crew of “The Man With the Dancing Eyes” hopes to create a new type of theatrical experience, depicting a classic fairytale with a modern twist.

“It’s a modern-day fairy tale replete with beauty, delicacy, sensuality and at times, bordering on bawdy,” Sale said.