After successful adaptations of best-selling children’s authors such as Michael Morpurgo, Terry Deary and David Almond, Birmingham Stage Company this Christmas turn its attention to Philip Pullman, writes Diane Parkes.
The company is adapting the writer’s story The Firework-Maker’s Daughter which is due to open at Birmingham’s Old Rep Theatre on November 9.
BSC actor manager Neal Foster says the tale just lends itself to the stage.
“It is a very theatrical story,” he says. “You have this girl Lila who wants to become a firework-maker but she is told she can’t do it because she is a girl. But she won’t accept this and she goes off on a really exciting adventure to discover the secret of fire-making and to see the fire demon.
“It is so colourful and so imaginative and she has a whole series of adventures that no-one could imagine in their whole lifetime.
“I have always believed that the theatre should be able to carry you away to worlds that you could never actually live in. I am never going to climb Mount Merapi or meet pirates or chase through the jungle – but theatre allows you to do it.”
Neal and his team have been working closely with the Pullman estate on the production, which is being adapted by Stephen Russell.
The BSC production will be the second stage version of the children’s tale by Pullman who is best-known for the His Dark Materials trilogy.
“I have spoken to Philip Pullman on the phone and hopefully he will come along to see some of the rehearsals and the final production,” adds Neal.
“When I think about it I realise how amazing it is that we have been able to work with so many of the top contemporary British writers for children. We worked with David Almond on Skellig, Michael Morpurgo on Kensuke’s Kingdom and Why The Whales Came, Terry Deary for six Horrible History plays and now Philip Pullman.”
BSC has enjoyed a successful run of Christmas shows in recent years which has also included Roald Dahl’s George’s Marvellous Medicine and Danny The Champion of the World as well as Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island. In between the company has also produced Shakespeare’s Othello and Twelfth Night and David Almond’s Skellig.
Neal is confident that The Firework-Maker’s Daughter will continue the trend.
“This is a large cast for us and they are taking on a very ambitious project as they are playing 29 different characters. The sets are huge, the costumes are fantastic and we have some incredible effects. We couldn’t do a show called The Firework-Maker’s Daughter without some really special firework effects.
“Stephen has said all along that he sees music as in integral part of this production so the cast of ten are all actor musicians,” says Neal. “Which always brings another dimension to a production.
“Also this is a really big show for us. It is very expensive and I am not even sure we will make any money from it as we have put so much into it.”
But the company was determined to ensure the show could still draw in school groups and families.
“I have always said that I want everyone to be able to afford to see one of our shows,” says Neal. “So we work very hard to keep the prices down and we encourage a lot of school parties. We have no subsidies to keep us going but I firmly believe that if you give families good quality theatre they will come to see it.
“And we make sure they can be seen by all the family. Our children’s shows are aimed at ages four to 12 but they always attract a lot of young people who are a bit older than that. Not to mention the adults.”
It is a busy time for BSC as it is currently working across a range of shows and taking their production of Skellig to Broadway next year.
“We are actually working on nine shows at the moment which is incredible really,” Neal says. “We have George’s Marvellous Medicine on tour and it is doing brilliantly for us. They are doing two shows a day and getting really good audiences for them all. That will be touring until May.
“We also have Horrible Science, which was in Birmingham earlier this summer, on tour and that is also doing well.
“We have secured the rights to Bagpuss and are doing a Christmas show with the Soho Theatre in London. It is the first stage production and we are working with Daniel Postgate, who is the son of Oliver Postgate who created Bagpuss.
“We also have our Horrible Histories on tour with the Egyptians and the Romans. We have done a completely new version of the Ruthless Romans which is much better. And we have the Jungle Book back, that is coming back to Birmingham’s Old Rep Theatre in April.
“Next year is really exciting for us because of taking Skellig to New York. We are playing this amazing children’s theatre on 42nd Street, just by Times Square. We are there in March and it will coincide with the launch of a new book by David Almond which isn’t a sequel to Skellig but is a companion to the story.”
But despite ticking eight off the list, Neal is remaining tight-lipped about project number nine.
“That is our next Christmas show which will open in Birmingham next year. But I can’t say anything about it – other than to say it is a secret.”
* BSC The Firework-Maker’s Daughter, Old Rep Theatre, November 9 – January 29, tickets: 0121 303 2323, www.birminghamboxoffice.co.uk