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Tue 26 Feb 2013
The first novel for teenagers by Children’s Laureate Julia Donaldson is being adapted for the stage in a collaboration between York company Pilot Theatre and the Tron Theatre in Glasgow.
Adapted by Tron artistic director Andy Arnold and directed by Pilot associate director Katie Posner, the Anglo-Scottish alliance is touring nationally in February and March, having opened in Glasgow, where the rehearsals were held.
“How exciting it is to be doing Julia’s first book for this age group; what an honour for Pilot,” says Katie. “It’s great to be working with Tron too and hopefully we’ll work with them again.”
The 70-minute premiere will arrive in York this week to play the Theatre Royal – where Pilot are the company in residence – from tomorrow until Saturday in the Studio.
The link between Pilot and Tron has its roots in Katie’s production of David Harrower’s psycho-sexual drama Blackbird. “We took that show to Glasgow at the end of 2011 and from then on, me and Andy started having conversations about future projects,” she says.
“Once he had more of an idea about Pilot’s work, he said he had the theatre rights for this book by Julia Donaldson and he wanted to do it as a co-production that he would write and I would direct.”
Donaldson is best known for her children’s books, in particular The Gruffalo, Room On the Broom and The Gruffalo’s Child, but Running On The Cracks saw her branching out into writing for teenagers and young adults in a story that addresses such issues as cultural identity and heritage, mental illness and homelessness.
The story focuses on penniless runaway Leonora Watts-Chan (played by Jessica Henwick), a 15-year-old orphan who escapes from the home of her creepy uncle, whose attentions have become too close for comfort.
Leo jumps on a train to Glasgow in pursuit of her lost links with her Chinese family, running from her past in the hope of a future that will answer questions about her late musician parents. In a parallel story, Finlay (Grant McDonald), 13, is running away from his family too.
“The play has quite an episodic structure with lots of split scenes and the sound world by Tron’s sound designer R J McConnell is very integral to it,” says Katie.
The production will be “a little darker than the book”. “Within the characters, including Mary, a woman suffering from mental issues who they befriend, there are such universal themes that will appeal to everyone, adults as well as teenagers,” says Katie.
“In the book everything is neatly tied up but our adaptation is more open-ended so that the audience will walk away thinking about what may happen to Leo, whereas if it’s all tied up, they just go home thinking, ‘That’s it then’.”
Donaldson wrote the book for her sons, the eldest of whom took his life at 25 when suffering from deteriorating mental health.
“Julia based some of Leo’s friends on Hamish’s friends at the hospital,” says Katie.
“Julia is very frank about psychological problems but what the story is really about is hope, Leo wanting to find something and Finlay too.”
Read the interview on The Press website.