Thursday 2 June 2011

Children's Books Deserving West End Adaptations


With Shrek the Musical finally open, families are flocking to London's West End to enjoy the long-awaited Broadway transfer. The familiar story, big-budget sets, film-accurate costumes and celebrity cast are already proving a hit with family audiences, many of who really appreciate the addition of another kid-friendly musical to London's rather grown-up offering.

The excitement surrounding the upcoming West End production of Matilda, a Musical — a comedy musical adaptation of Roald Dahl's Matilda —proves once again just how hungry theatre-goers are for shows that the entire family can enjoy.

Although many West End shows can be enjoyed by older children, mums and dads of little ones, tweens and younger teens only really have four choices: Shrek, The Wizard of Oz, The Lion King and perhaps War Horse. The West End is in desperate need of a few more children's' classics and it's about time producers looks to their bookshelves for inspiration rather than the local Blockbusters Video. Let's look at some likely candidates for adaptation.

Beaver Towers — Nigel Hinton

An intrepid young lad riding an enchanted kite on a magical journey to a far-off land, a secret island, talking beavers, a wicked witch and an all-powerful spell book: Beaver Towers has almost everything that a young imagination could want.

The simple but moving story of good versus evil could easily lend itself to musical adaptation and the fact that most of the characters are talking animals of one sort or another opens up a world of possibilities for puppetry or Lion King-style costumes.

Gorilla — Anthony Browne

The Gruffalo took the West End by storm during its brief stint there, proving that even simple picture books have the potential to make entertaining stage shows when handled properly. Gorilla is a similarly simple but enchanting read.

The story sees a girl get given a toy gorilla by her father, who is always far too busy to take her to the zoo she is so desperate to see. When night falls and the little girl is tucked up in bed, the toy becomes a real gorilla with excellent taste in men's outerwear. Together the little girl and the gorilla enjoy a unforgettable trip to the zoo. Like The Gruffalo, Gorilla would require a little fleshing-out to become a full-blown stage show, but you can bet that the little ones would love it.

The Flame Trees of Thika — Elspeth Huxley

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The novel sees Huxley recall her childhood as a pioneering settler in the mysterious lands of Kenya in the early 20th century. There's adventure, intrigue, drama and excitement galore, all used carefully to paint a realistic portrait of the days of colonisation, a time kids today learn precious little about.

The Faraway Tree — Enid Blyton

Could there be a better candidate for an all-singing, all-dancing West End extravaganza for children? Enid Blyton's world-famous adventure set almost entirely in the boughs and secret hidey-holes of a giant tree is full of magical characters who are just begging to be brought to life on stage.

The surreal, fantastical tone of Blyton's work would allow some wonderfully wacky musical numbers. Moon Face and Silky the fairy in-particular could perform some silly numbers about the wacky land of the Faraway tree and the tree-top sets would allow for breath-taking acrobatics.

Jumanji — Chris Van Allsburg

The book of Jumanji is far shorter than you might imagine. It is only 32 pages long and contains none of the adult characters seen in the 1995 film version: proof that simple stories can be fleshed out and brought to life without damaging them.

The story of Jumanji is simple: A pair of siblings find a peculiar board game beneath a tree and decide to play. When they do they find that the game is far more than just pieces of wood and cardboard: It summons lions, monkeys, monsoons and rhinos and the only way to beat it is to finish it. Producers could stick to the simplified version and put on a small-scale show with puppets representing the various jungle animals, or embrace the plot of the film and make a blockbusting West End show complete with lavish special effects.


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