Thursday, November 28, 2019

An Ocean of Story

It was three years ago that I went for my first meeting at the National Theatre, with Mel Kenyon, my redoubtable Theatrical Agent. I met Katy Rudd and Joel Horwood in an office at the back of the action. Katy was a director, Joel a writer. They wanted to adapt my novel The Ocean at the End of the Lane. They wanted to make it a play.

I really liked them, and they seemed to have responded to the right sort of things in the book.

I said yes.

(Saying yes also meant that I soon had to say no to something else that the National Theatre wanted to do. Something much bigger, and probably more of a crowd pleaser. They couldn't do both, and they knew they couldn't. But I have a special love for Ocean: it's smaller and more delicate. Sooner or later the big crowd pleaser would happen anyway. Ocean was small and personal.)

Six months later, there was a “proof of concept workshop” at the National Theatre studios beside the Old Vic. I saw a flapping canvas puppet. Actors said words. There wasn't a script yet, but there was a point of view. I told them what I liked, what I didn't. They were the same things that Joel and Katy liked and didn't.

A year after that, more or less, there was a semi-acted read through of the script, put on for me and for the National Theatre. It had potential, wasn't there yet, but was enough of a thing that I said yes to it continuing (I could have stopped it there) and the National Theatre powers that be said Yes to putting it on at the National.

And a year after that, a table read. Many of the cast had been with the production since that first workshop. I had a few big notes, but found it intensely moving. I managed not to cry at the end.

And two days ago I was in a rehearsal room in the National Theatre, watching a run-through of the whole play, with sound cues, puppetry, and drama. I was holding my breath, hoping it would work. And as it came to an end, with a tear streaming down my cheek (I flicked it away discreetly, a gesture I've only ever seen in films before now) I was thrilled with what Katy and Joel have built.
They've built it with remarkable actors and with technicians and with craftspeople and lighting designers and the best of the talent that the National Theatre has. They've built it with Jherek Bischoff's music.

They've built it with love, and with an understanding of what the book's about, which taught them what you can lose to fit the book into something the size of a play and what you have to keep.
They've built it with the three ladies of the Hempstock family, with Ursula Monkton in all her forms, with Hunger Birds, with real theatrical magic.

(Movement/Choreographer Steven Hoggett (Left) and Director Katy Rudd (seated). I first worked with Steven with the National Theatre of Scotland's 2006 version of The Wolves in the Walls.)

The production has almost sold out already: it's already lots of people's favourite of my books, and the word on the street is good. It's also at the Dorfman, the smallest of the National Theatre's venues, which fits about 350 people a night. The show runs from previews on December 3rd until January 25th. There are still a few tickets, but not many.

The opening night is December 11th, the day before the UK General Election. I wonder what the mood will be in the theatre that night. I hope the critics like it, but mostly I hope the people who go to the theatre like it.

On December the 18th, Sir Lenny Henry will be interviewing me about Ocean at the End of the Lane, play and book, on the big Olivier Stage at the National. Tickets are £31/£26 for Students and Under 18s, and the ticket price includes a pre-signed copy of the illustrated edition of Ocean at the End of the Lane. (Which normally go for £20 except I believe they've now all sold out.) And you can also buy just a ticket without the book, for those of you going as families, or who already have the book.

Here's the link:

And if you want to look for the last few tickets,

It's Thanksgiving in the US now. It feels odd to not be sweating in a tiny kitchen, cooking huge turkeys and a whole salmon or two and making the stuffed mushrooms for a host of family and friends. Instead I'm off on my own for the first time since the Autumn of 2016, to try and caught up on writing. 

I miss my family, but it feels very good to be concentrating on what needs to be written. I'm lucky having Amanda there, who encouraged me to go and write. 

I'm thankful there are people out there who read what I write and who like what I make. I'm very lucky, and I know it.

(And I blew out a tyre on a country road a long way from anywhere last night, in a rented car. The What3words app was invaluable in letting the roadside assistance I was put through to know where I was. Huge thumbs up from me, and thank you What3words.)

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