Creative inspiration strikes at random times, often when it’s least expected. For the UK-based publishing house Bloomsbury, it struck in the office one day when a colleague’s mother sent a photo of their family guinea pig wearing a Christmas hat. Much hilarity ensued, and without realizing it, a new label, Guinea Pig Classics, had been born.
“A group of colleagues decided to make ‘A Guinea Pig Nativity,’ ” says fashion and film set designer Tess Gammell, “and after its success they commissioned me [to design] the successors: ‘A Guinea Pig Pride & Prejudice,’ ‘A Guinea Pig Oliver Twist’, and ‘A Guinea Pig Romeo & Juliet.’ ”
The latter, out Tuesday, is the newest installment in the series and features exactly what it promises: beautiful pictures of guinea pigs dressed in historically accurate clothing, acting out the famous Shakespeare play in its entirety. “For me, the work is so much fun. Adapting the books brings me closer to what makes these stories so great and timeless,” says author Alex Goodwin. “And I’m still at the stage when I think, how hilarious would it be for a guinea pig to say this famous line from literature?”
The process of photographing the guinea pigs in costumes is about what one might expect: Shoots involve a lot of laughter, parsley and radishes, and the actors are prone to wander off set. “Dangling treats helps entice them in the right direction,” says Gammell, who explains that the guinea pigs are dressed by their owners and seem “more than happy to be dressed up.” “We use no elastic — just loosely tied ribbons and carefully balanced hats,” she says. “The costumes are also historically accurate; I do extensive research on the period and use antique ribbons and laces.”
Each book takes about four days to shoot. “The photos are often taken milliseconds before their hats tumble off,” she says.
There are several titles being tossed around for the next project, although author Salman Rushdie did throw down a gauntlet of sorts in a 2015 T Magazine interview when he referred to “A Guinea Pig Pride & Prejudice” as the “definitive” version of the classic. “If they could get ‘War and Peace’ down to this length, it would be a service to mankind,” he said.
“I’m definitely tempted by Salman Rushdie’s challenge, partly because I’d actually have to read it,” says Goodwin. “ ‘Gone with the Wind?’ Proust? ‘Don Quixote’ would be fun, but the need for a horse and donkey might be an issue.”
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