'Faxes were going back and forth in terrible English and even worse French trying to describe the colour of the spots on Ermintrude's back. We had to go to printers to find an internationally acceptable shading. They were very specific about everything.'
Then there were the costumes. How best for Dougal to swivel, for Ermintrude's neck to twist round and, most importantly, how to put the b-o-i-n-g into Zebedee? 'At one point he was going to bounce on from a trampoline,' says Graham, 'but his legs are tied together, so if he fell over he'd never get up again. With Ermintrude the last thing we wanted was for her to look like a pantomime cow. So we got the actress to stand up inside the costume with the body and back legs dragged along on wheels.'
Dougal's get-up proved the most arduous of all. 'He has a very hot costume, what with all the hair. He's crouched down with his knees on a skateboard so he can spin through 360 degrees. His left hand is on the stage pushing himself along and his right hand holds a lever that guides him. Coupled with that, his head is upright so he can only see through his nostrils. Plus he's got to remember his lines.'
The stage show took off in February and immediately, the designer's headaches were transferred to the actors. They were taken on for an initial 12- week stint 'to give them a chance to get out'. Despite the unorthodox acting demands, they all chose to stay. But as the tour approaches its winter break some 200 performances later, it has grown used to carrying a castful of crocks.
'At one point, three of us were on pain-killers,' says Kim Joyce, who plays Zebedee. 'The costumes are a swine to act in. I've got a broken bone in my foot from bouncing for a year. I've just had some laser treatment on it. Dougal's got a bad back and Ermintrude has a pain in her neck from trying to get movement into the head.' They may even consider signing a physiotherapist when the tour resumes. 'It's not something that would occur to you,' says Graham, 'that you're going to get physical injuries from such a gentle little show.'
Danot's original was an obscure hippy-trippy satire (Dougal equals De Gaulle), but Graham's version is closer in spirit to Eric Thompson's BBC voiceovers. Like those five-minute flights of fancy, it has been aimed at a student / children crossover audience. 'Students love it,' says Joyce. 'I was a student in the Sixties so I used to watch it. Whenever Dougal went off for a sugar lump all the flowers started growing. Of course we don't understand what that means. When we played High Wycombe some of the kids walked out, but the parents were enjoying it too much to leave.' As a result, the spring tour will be an adults affair with a spicier script. 'It's become like The Rocky Horror Show,' says Graham. 'We've had people running down the front shouting at Dougal for having a go at Brian. They get quite het up.'
Joyce has worked with Gielgud and Peggy Ashcroft in Shakespeare and Shaw, but 'it's not until I play a jack-in-the-box that I get into the Guardian's art section'. Come next year's student tour, he'll be strapping on his spring again. 'For all the discomfort,' Graham says, 'the actors are obviously still enjoying it. Either that or they need the work.'
Ipswich Regent, 11am, 2.30pm, 7.30pm tonight (0473 215544)
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