David Wood Interview

Anyone who has taken a child to the theatre in recent years will need no introduction to the work of David Wood OBE. As well as writing his own plays (since the 1960s), David has adapted numerous children’s books for the stage, including Roald Dahl’s classics, Judith Kerr’s The Tiger Who Came to Tea, and Dick King-Smith’s Babe.

Recent productions include Spot’s Birthday Party and the adaptation of Michelle Magorian’s Goodnight Mister Tom in the West End.

We asked David about the changing face of children’s theatre and why he has decided to write for adults again after a thirty-five year break.

What are your thoughts on the state of children’s theatre at the moment?
The great thing is that so many theatre practitioners – writers, designers, directors, actors etc. – actually want to work in children’s theatre for its own sake rather than as a rung on the ladder towards working in ‘real’ (adult) theatre.  There has been an explosion of work for all age groups over the last 10 or 15 years, particularly for the under-fives.  There is, of course, never enough money, and most children’s theatre companies have to budget extremely carefully.  The seat price, rightly, is kept as low as possible.  But children’s productions can be as expensive, if not more so, than their adult equivalents.


How does it compare to when you started writing in the sixties?
When I started there was very little theatre for children, apart from at Christmas.  There were pantomimes, of course, but they lacked a strong storyline.  There were occasional productions of ALICE IN WONDERLAND, TOAD OF TOAD HALL, THE WIZARD OF OZ and, of course, PETER PAN, but there wasn’t much original work being presented.  Children’s theatre was very much seen as third vision theatre, sadly.

As a writer of plays for children, do you think there is still a market for new plays for children’s theatre or do today’s audiences favour adaptations of well-known titles?
Many theatres favour adaptations of well-known titles, because, sadly, parents and teachers tend to be conservative in their choices, and want something they have heard of.  However, there are now many small-scale companies working in studios, arts centres, schools etc. who do indeed present new work.  Many of them are wonderfully inventive and imaginative.  I wish they could all achieve more recognition and profile.  When I ran my own company, Whirligig Theatre, for 25 years, we managed to achieve a certain loyalty from schools and the public.  This meant that we were able to do several new plays of mine with unfamiliar titles.  But the teachers and the parents were happy to book for a Whirligig show, even though they had never heard of the play.

After having adapted so many children’s books for the stage, is there still a book which you have a burning desire to adapt?
The book I wanted desperately to adapt was GOODNIGHT MISTER TOM.  I waited about 20 years before the rights became available!

Among your many successes, you have adapted Roald Dahl’s books to great acclaim. What is it that draws you to his work?
Dahl’s books have a splendid theatricality.  Larger than life situations, sometimes fantasy, springing from very real circumstances, giving plausibility to the stories.  He writes great baddie characters.  He uses child protagonists, whose difficulties and underprivileged circumstances immediately involve the young reader.  Their journey often involves them triumphing against nasty adults – children, of course, respond very positively to that!  Justice is a major theme, which appeals to children.  And, of course, Dahl’s humour and sense of anarchy makes him hugely attractive to children.  And to me!

Congratulations! Your adaptation of LP Hartley’s The Go—Between was a winner at the 2012 Theatre Awards UK.  What drew you back to working on a production for adults after a thirty-five year break?
Richard Taylor, the composer, invited me to work with him on THE GO-BETWEEN.  It was a favourite novel of mine, and I loved the film version.  It was a refreshing experience to collaborate on this subject, and we were both delighted with the production that went on to win the award.

I understand that you are a Trustee of the Story Museum in Oxford. What led you to become involved with the charity?
At an Action for Children’s Arts event (I am the Chair of ACA), Kim Pickin approached me and told me about her dream for a Story Museum in Oxford.  I loved the idea and was honoured to be invited to become a Trustee.  I was a student at Oxford in the 60’s, so it is a great pleasure to feel involved in the city once more.

How is work progressing towards opening the Story Museum to the public in 2015?
Planning permission has now been granted, and all that remains is for us to raise several million pounds in order for the work to take place!  The old post office buildings opposite Christ Church will be renovated and designed to house all the exciting features of this major new attraction.  All donations welcome!

Other than one of your own theatre productions, which current children’s theatre event would you like to go and see?
There is not one single children’s theatre event I will hope to see, but I will be visiting as many children’s plays as possible over the Christmas period, which is when most of them will be on.  I am a Patron of Polka Theatre in Wimbledon, so try to see all their productions.

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