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David Wood

From page to stage - Tom's Midnight Garden

Posted on 7 March 2014

Writer David Wood discusses the process of adapting Phillipa Pearce’s novel Tom’s Midnight Garden, from page to stage.

“One of the things I enjoy most about adapting books for the theatre is getting the chance to meet and talk to the authors. Sometimes this is impossible, particularly if the author has died; I’m sad that I never met Roald Dahl, who died at the time I was adapting The BFG. But Dick King-Smith (Babe, The Sheep Pig), Helen Nicoll and Jan Piénkowski (Meg and Mog Show), Michael Foreman (Dinosaurs And All That Rubbish) and, more recently, Philip Pullman (whose book Clockwork I have adapted as an opera) have all proved friendly, cooperative and inspirational when discussing their work’s transition from page to stage.

“None more so than Phillipa Pearce, the author of the classic story from the 1950s, Tom’s Midnight Garden. She is now an incredibly young and with-it octogenarian, who lives in Cambridgeshire, yards from the original location of her story. I first went to see her to ask permission to adapt her book, which had never been put on the stage before. This was surprising, because such a splendid and well-loved story was an obvious candidate for adaptation. It had been seen on television more than once, and there was a cinema version in the pipeline. At first I wondered if Miss Pearce wasn’t interested in the theatre, but was delighted to discover that, on the contrary, she is an inveterate theatregoer, who loves travelling to London to see a play at the National or the RSC. Indeed her reluctance to give permission for a stage version of Tom’s Midnight Garden was partly because she thought (as I did, at first!) it might be impossible to stage; the two time zones in the same locations are as real as one another, and the to-ing and fro-ing between the 1950’s and the 1890’s could be difficult to achieve without elaborate and clumsy scene changes.

“Phillipa Pearce generously listened to my ideas with interest, and prepared a very tasty lunch too! She told me how the ideas for Tom’s Midnight Garden had come to her, and answered lots of questions. Eventually, to my delight, she agreed to let me work on a stage adaptation. Later she read my first draft and made some excellent suggestions. By the time Unicorn Theatre presented the first performance in London, we had a script we were both happy with. Tony Graham’s original production was a great success, and was invited to play for a season in New York on Broadway. It won the Equity Award for Best Show for Children and Young People, 2001. And, two years later, the Library Theatre, Manchester production, directed by Roger Haines, won the same award! We were both delighted.

“Now the Birmingham Stage Company are touring Tom’s Midnight Garden. I hope, and I know Phillipa Pearce hopes, the play will be enjoyed by thousands of young people all over the UK, and will encourage many of them, if they haven’t already, to read the haunting and moving novel upon which it is based.”

David Wood

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