|Lauren Ward as Miss Honey in Matilda|
Jo Caird: Why Can't We Resist Adaptations of Children's Classics?
Date: 9 January 2012
It all started with The Railway Children. York Theatre Royal's adaptation of E. Nesbit's 1906 children's novel first appeared in York in 2008, before returning for a second season in 2009 and transferring to London the following summer. A second London season, which opened in June 2011, had its final performance this Sunday just gone.
Since that show arrived in a haze of smoke, steam and five-star reviews, stage adaptations of classic children's books have been all the rage. Autumn 2010 saw the openings of Matilda and Swallows and Amazons at the Courtyard Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon and the Bristol Old Vic respectively. A year on – during which we were treated to a new production of Nigel Williams's 1995 adaptation of Lord of the Flies at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre – and both shows are playing in the West End, having been lauded by the critics.
And there's more in store for 2012. While Swallows and Amazons heads off on tour and Matilda merrily rakes in the cash with bookings being taken up until October, the theatre world will be holding its breath for news of the Sam Mendes-directed Charlie and the Chocolate Factory rumoured to be coming to the Palladium later in the year. There are no confirmed details of the production available yet, but with music and lyrics by Tony Award-winners Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman (the team behind Hairspray) and book by David Greig, it's an undeniably exciting prospect.
But what it is about adaptations of children's books that is proving so irresistible to both audiences and critics? Of course it's partly down to the magic of the original stories, as well as to the excellence of the shows themselves, brilliantly ambitious work by some of UK theatre's brightest stars (and supported, in the case of The Railway Children, Swallows and Amazons and Matilda by public subsidy). But there's more to it than that.
This genre of work is doing so well at the moment, I'd argue, because it represents the ultimate nostalgia-inducing escapist treat. These shows are not just popular with the family audiences for whom they were created, but also with adult theatre-goers who normally wouldn't dream of booking tickets for a 'family show'. And this next bit is unscientific, but I've also noticed that lots of the people getting excited about this type of show are irregular theatre-goers. I was amazed to see the enthusiasm with which some friends of mine who never ever go to the theatre discussed Swallows and Amazons, for example.
It seems that in the current climate of economic doom and gloom and social discontent, there's just something irresistible about spending a couple of hours immersed in a well-loved story from our childhoods. Even the eye-wateringly high West End ticket prices of some of these shows (ahem, Matilda) isn't enough to put people off.
Good theatre is always escapist to a degree but these shows offer an additional draw. Not only do they evoke memories of childhood – the simpler time when we first discovered these stories for ourselves, long before any notion of the challenges of adult life – but they also present worlds in which good conquers evil and friendship and imagination win out (although of course all the stories I've mentioned, except perhaps Swallows and Amazons, do have their dark sides).
The economy may be stagnating, heating bills may be soaring and riots may be breaking out on our streets, but perhaps we should be thankful, because after all, without the Tories, there'd be no need for all this wonderful theatre.
- by Jo Caird
Any opinions expressed above do not represent the view of Whatsonstage.com nor any of its staff or contributors beyond the bylined author.
|Jo Caird is a freelance arts journalist and has been deputy Off-West End editor of Whatsonstage.com since June 2009. Jo tweets at @JoCaird. Her personal website is JoCaird.com|
|Other Posts By Jo Caird|
|Globe to Globe Blog: Jo Caird on The Taming of the Shrew & The Comedy of Errors - 4th Jun 2012 blog|
|Globe to Globe Blog: Jo Caird on As You Like It & Love's Labour's Lost - 2nd Jun 2012 blog|
|Globe to Globe Blog: Jo Caird on a Korean Dream & the first production from a brand new nation - 1st May 2012 blog|
|Jo Caird: Theatre goes green - 27th Feb 2012 blog|
|Jo Caird: Three cheers for the NT & subsidised theatre - 22nd Feb 2012 blog|
|Jo Caird: Should there be a SOLT for London's Off West End? - 15th Feb 2012 blog|
|Jo Caird: Survey puts Fringe audiences in the spotlight - 8th Feb 2012 blog|
|Jo Caird: The trouble with statistics - 2nd Feb 2012 blog|
|Jo Caird: The changing face of arts journalism - 24th Jan 2012 blog|
|Jo Caird: My top 100 theatre people to follow on Twitter - 19th Jan 2012 blog|
|Mendes Brings Charlie & the Chocolate Factory Musical to London??? - 20th May 2011 Gossip|
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|Review Round-up: Matilda storms Broadway - 15th Apr 2013 roundup|
|Photos: New production pics released for Matilda - 3rd Jan 2013 photos|
|Top Ten: London shows for half term - 23rd Oct 2012 features|
|Matilda releases 400k more tickets for Roald Dahl Day - 13th Sep 2012 news|
|RSC announces four new girls for West End Matilda - 9th Aug 2012 news|
|Matilda the Musical confirms Broadway transfer, opens March 2013 - 20th Jul 2012 news|
|Michael Boyd announces final RSC season, Ravenhill responds to Candide - 10th Jul 2012 news|
|David Leonard & Annette McLaughlin take over in Matilda - 1st Jun 2012 news|
|Matilda, Faust & Frayn triumph at South Bank Awards - 2nd May 2012 news|
|Matilda wins seven, One Man overlooked at 2012 Oliviers - 15th Apr 2012 news|
|Matilda, Guvnors & Constellations compete at South Bank Awards - 2nd Apr 2012 news|
|Bertie Carvel sets Matilda departure date, show extends - 28th Mar 2012 news|
|Matilda, Guvnors & Ladykillers lead the field at 2012 Oliviers - 15th Mar 2012 news|
|Sondheim sounds off - 5th Mar 2012 blog|
|RSC confirms plans to take WOS Award-winning Matilda to New York - 28th Feb 2012 news|
|RSC Keeps Control of Matilda on Broadway??? - 9th Jan 2012 gossip|
|Swallows & Amazons - 21st Dec 2011 reviews|
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|Matilda The Musical - 25th Nov 2011 reviews|
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|Photos: 57th Evening Standard Awards Shortlist - 7th Nov 2011 photos|
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|Photos: New RSC Matildas Fly into West End - 13th Sep 2011 news|
|Cast Announced for West End Transfer of RSC Matilda - 23rd Aug 2011 news|
|Boss Blog: Theatre's Debt to Comedy - 11th Aug 2011 blog|
|Bristol Swallows & Amazons Invade West End for Xmas - 25th Jul 2011 news|
|Christie Brinkley Delays West End Debut in Chicago - 8th Jul 2011 news|
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|RSC's Matilda Confirms London Opening, 22 Nov - 19th May 2011 news|
|Minchin's Matilda Comes to West End in Autumn - 31st Mar 2011 news|
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|Tim Minchin: Why You Should Come & See ... Matilda, A Musical - 6th Dec 2010 interviews|
|RSC Sets Dates for Dahlís Matilda Musical, 9 Nov - 24th Mar 2010 news|
|RSC Premieres Musical of Roald Dahlís Matilda - 30th Sep 2009 news|