Written and illustrated by Judith Kerr, The Tiger Who Came to Tea is a children’s book which was first published in nineteen sixty-eight. It was one of my favourite bedtime stories when I was younger so I thought that it would be a fitting and meaningful first project.
The story takes place within the home of a family: a mother, a father and their daughter, Sophie. While the father is away at work there is a knock at the door and Sophie and her mother answer to see a hungry tiger who politely asks if he can join them for tea. He is offered sandwiches and cake, all of which he swallows whole, along with more food and drink, including all of the food in the pans and the fridge. When they have no food left and even the water in the taps is gone, the tiger thanks them and leaves Sophie’s mother wondering what to do without any food in the house for supper. Sophie’s father comes home from work and after they have explained what happened with the tiger, he decides to take them all to a café, where they have a lovely supper of sausages, chips and ice cream. The next morning Sophie and her mother go shopping and just in case, they buy a big tin of Tiger food so they are prepared if he ever returns. But he never does.
What I found interesting when looking at the story from a now adult perspective is that you begin to sympathise with Sophie’s mother- she is left with chaos in the kitchen and no food in the house. Sophie, however, sees the Tiger as a new friend that she can play with. I wanted to explore this idea that adults and children see the world very differently, but also that a child’s perspective is warped by their surroundings and what they have been told. A mother might tell her child that the man is just hungry and looking for food, when he is really raiding the house. Inspired by 1920s Art Deco and the colour orange, my adaptation explores this contrast between adult and child perspective, where Sophie only conjures up the image of a friendly tiger that joins her and her mother for afternoon tea. The character’s childlike fantasy is played alongside a more sinister reality, which shows the true intentions of the man behind the mask and the lies parents tell their children to protect them.
In the adult reality of this story, Sophie’s father owes money to a notorious gang leader. Inspired by the opening scene in Inglorious Bastards, the “tiger” is a man who visits consecutively in a single evening to retrieve the money that he is owed. Sophie is intrigued by his character, his clothes and the way that he moves, so her imagination transforms the man into a playful animal.