Books · Music

Book to Stage Adaptations

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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, the eighth instalment in JK Rowling’s phenomenally popular series, made its West End debut back in June. The play script, based on a story by Rowling but written by screenwriter Jack Thorne, became the fastest-selling title of the decade. It has been notoriously difficult to obtain tickets for the show, which is shown in two parts on consecutive nights, though there is a weekly lottery for a small amount of tickets at a reduced price. Reviews of the play have been mixed- the actors playing Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy, the sons of rival wizards Harry and Draco, have received universal praise, but book fans are unhappy with the titular ‘Cursed Child’, who doesn’t abide by the rules of magic laid out in Rowling’s novels. Rowling has expanded her world online ahead of the release of Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Themgo to Pottermore to read about Isolt Sayre, the founder of America’s first wizarding school, and other wizarding schools around the world. The paradoxical Cursed Child may end up making sense to us once all has been revealed! Harry Potter is not the first children’s franchise to be adapted for the stage. We take a look at some of the most successful stage adaptations, and the novels that inspired them, below.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon was adapted in 2012 by the National Theatre. The novel’s narrator Christopher was originally played by Luke Treadaway, who is soon to star in the film adaptation of another Information Store favourite, Streetcat Bob! City College graduate Robyn Steward worked as a consultant on the production; while Christopher’s condition isn’t named in Haddon’s novel, his extreme sensitivity to stimuli and rigid adherence to routines suggest that he is somewhere on the autistic spectrum. Lighting designer Paule Constable used scrolling LEDs to mirror Christopher’s frenetic thoughts on set. In one memorable scene, cast members surround Christopher as he disembarks at a station platform. The audience is bombarded with bright lights and earsplitting sounds, until Christopher collapses to the floor. We think he has travelled across London in the style of a classic movie montage, but Christopher has only made it as far as the ticket window. You can find The Curious Incident… in the BOOK ZONE 823.91 HAD. A study guide co-authored by Mark Haddon is available in the BOOK ZONE 823.914 and you can visit Robyn’s website to learn more about autism advocacy. The Curious Incident… will be returning to Norwich in August 2017.

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Christopher protects his pet rat Toby from a crowd of commuters

The National Theatre faced a different challenge in 2003 when they adapted all three parts of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials into two full length-plays. The story begins in an alternate version of our world where everyone is partnered with an animal, or ‘daemon’, a physical manifestation of a human’s soul. Children’s daemons can shapeshift, and protagonist Lyra’s pine marten Pan regularly transforms into a moth (to hide in dark places) or a songbird (to look for danger overhead) In the first book, Lyra meets daemons in the form of dogs, geese, hares, crows and snow leopards, and watches two armour-clad polar bears fight to the death! Talented prop-makers from Blind Summit provided puppets that could be handled by a single puppeteer, and suits (including gloves, shoes, masks and fur) that could be worn by actors. See another artist’s take on Pantalaimon, Stelmaria, Iorek and the Golden Monkey in Northern Lights: The Graphic Novel Volume 1 (BOOK ZONE 741.5 PUL), adapted from Pullman’s text by Stéphane Melchior and Clément Oubrerie. An excerpt is available on the Guardian website. The entire trilogy- Northern Lights, The Subtle Knife and The Amber Spyglass– is available in the BOOK ZONE 823.91 PUL.


Witches in His Dark Materials are often paired with flying daemons

The National Theatre worked alongside the Handspring Puppet Company in 2007 to adapt Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse for the West End. As well a pair of ravens and a rather cheeky goose, the production features full-scale horses made from leather and aircraft parts, operated by three to four puppeteers each. This TED Talk, with over 1.5 million views, explains how Joey and the other horses come to life on stage. The play uses live folk music to capture the spirit of rural England before, during and after the First World War, and this was celebrated in a BBC Prom at the Royal Albert Hall in 2014. You can listen to some of the classical pieces that featured here; much of the original cast album is available to stream on YouTube. War Horse and its sequel Farm Boy are both available to borrow from the Norfolk Digital Library; other books by Michael Morpurgo are available in our QUICK READS section.


Illustrations by Handspring puppeteer Rae Smith are used as the backdrop to War Horse

Hetty Feather, adapted by Torchwood screenwriter Emma Reeves, also uses folk music throughout- you might even see a couple of pantomime horses! Hetty Feather’s life from birth to age 11 is recounted by a cast of just five actors- two men and two women each play multiple parts while Hetty herself is played by a talented aerialist. At five years old, Hetty sneaks into a circus tent to watch the famous Madame Adeline. Hetty becomes convinced that Adeline is her birth mother, and they are destined to perform together as a red-headed double act. Hetty’s imagination and her refusal to conform to expectations land her in trouble in the Foundling Home where she was abandoned. Her determination is tempered by inner turmoil, as she hides her aerial antics from her pious brother Gideon and sweetheart Jem. Memories of the circus feed Hetty’s imagination while other foundlings succumb to illness or become withdrawn. Sparse wooden classrooms, dormitories and attics are transformed by colourful banners, showers of feathers and hula hoops for Hetty to climb. The Hetty Feather series spans five novels; the latest volume Little Stars is available from the Norfolk Digital Library.  We have many other books by Jacqueline Wilson, like My Sister Jodie, which is set in a modern boarding school. Find them in our QUICK READS section at 823.91 WIL.


Cruel matrons deliver Hetty to the Foundling Home after removing her long red hair

Australian comedian Tim Minchin’s anarchic adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Matilda and movie director Sam Mendes’ Charlie and the Chocolate Factory are both currently on stage in the West End. Minchin, who is famous for his comedic songs and poetry performances, references other books by Roald Dahl in songs like ‘Revolting Children’:

We are revolting children

Living in revolting times

We sing revolting songs

Using revolting rhymes

You can watch Tim discuss his writing process on the Matilda website and in the documentary Matilda and Me, showing on Sky Arts this Thursday. Actress Kerry Ingram, one of four original Matildas, has gone on to appear in HBO’s adaptation of George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones, and the BBC adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall.


Thousands of books on stage during Tim Minchin’s Matilda

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory was released on screen in 1971 as Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Pure Imagination, the song in which Wonka unveils his edible Chocolate Room, was nominated for an Oscar; it has been covered by artists like Mariah Carey and Maroon 5, spoofed by both The Simpsons and Family Guy, and was sung by Russell Brand during the London 2012 Olympics opening ceremony. The stage production features this iconic song, but replaces ‘Cheer Up Charlie’ and ‘The Candyman Can’ with original songs like ‘The Double Bubble Duchess’, ‘Vidiots’ and ‘Auf Wiedersehen, Augustus Gloop’. Listen to the soundtrack here and decide which one sounds sweetest! Almost all of Roald Dahl’s books can be found amongst the QUICK READS.


Which version of Roald Dahl’s classic story do you prefer?

Have you seen any other plays or musicals based on novels, like Wicked, Les Miserables, Cats or Phantom of the Opera? Tell us over on Twitter or Facebook!


Captain Roger Fenton (2016) Harry Potter and the Cursed Child available at (Accessed on 13/09/2016)

Garbato, K (2011) 2011-08-29 – Lyra’s Oxford – 0001 available at (Accessed on 02/06/2016)

The Lowry (2013) The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time available at (Accessed on 02/06/2016)

Cooper, D (2014) 3 Phoebe Thomas as Hetty with Company available at (Accessed 13/09/2016)

Rinaldi, E (2013) War Horse available at (Accessed on 02/06/2016)

Farquhar, D (2014) Matilda The Musical available at (Accessed on 02/06/2016)

Chan, J (2011) Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971) available at (Accessed 13/09/2016)





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