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Running On The Cracks: York Theatre Royal, from Tuesday to March 2. Box office 01904-623568 and online yorktheatreroyal.co.uk
A children’s literature favourite with a Scottish heart is being brought to the stage. Steve Pratt reports
AS children’s laureate Julia Donaldson’s first novel for teenagers was set on the streets of Glasgow, it seemed only natural to develop and rehearse the play adaptation there.
Running On The Cracks is being staged and toured in a co-production between York-based Pilot Theatre and Glasgow’s Tron Theatre. It’s the story of a young orphaned girl trying to rediscover her lost Chinese family while escaping the attention of an uncle whose motives the audience learn to question.
“It seemed like a missed opportunity if we were not to make the play there, and for me to get the vibes of the city and use Scottish-based actors,” says Pilot’s associate director Katie Posner, who is directing the piece.
“It’s really exciting to do a co-production with a new theatre and Tron is great because they do a lot of new writing and contemporary work. It’s nice to make a show about Glasgow in Glasgow.”
She spent the best part of five weeks in the city, preparing and rehearsing the play. “When the girl in the story first goes to Glasgow, she’s at the central station. It’s big and bustling and scary. She steals doughnuts from the market,”
she says. “When I first went there, it was pouring with rain and cold and dark. I could really empathise with her.
“Glaswegians are incredibly warm and friendly people. It’s quite a hedonistic type of place and I saw lots of people like Mary sees in the story, so I hope it’s a really truthful piece.”
The project arose out of Posner’s previous York Theatre Royal staging of the play Blackbird in November 2011 which toured to, among other places, Glasgow.
“While there, I got chatting to Andy Arnold of the Tron. We found we had common interests and talked about the idea of doing a co-production in the future. That was the starting conversation. He also learnt about Pilot and our target audience and what we did,” she recalls.
Later he sent her an email saying he had the rights to Donaldson’s book for teenagers, that he wanted to do an adaptation and would she be interested in directing it?
“I loved it – it’s a beautiful book and the characters are so likeable. He’d written the first 16 pages of the adaptation so I could see how he was doing it.”
As the girl seeks her parents, the story explores runaways, mental illness and our need to discover where we belong in the world. The stage version of the book needed to make certain changes. “The book has so many different characters and we have a cast of five actors.
Two people play the same characters throughout and the others play lots of different characters,” says Posner.
“You have to find a way of doing it for the stage so lots gets changed. We spent the first week developing and finding out if it works.
Because this is such an episodic story things that work on paper don’t necessarily work on stage.”
BUT Donaldson approved the adaptation and gave them notes. She was aware of all the changes that had to be made. Posner met her while recording interviews for BBC Scotland and says the writer “seemed to enjoy the show”. She saw performances when the production premiered in Glasgow earlier this month.
“Obviously you hope that she will like it and enjoy the seeing the core of what she wanted to write about,” says Posner.
Younger theatregoers are Pilot’s main audience, but Posner hopes the stage adaptation has wide appeal. “Older teenagers like the book but we wanted to make a piece that’s universal and for everybody, both older teenagers and adults,” she says.
“I think the Scottishness will travel. It’s really important that it does.”
After being seen at The Tron, the production tours to Exeter, York and Lincoln.
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