Working with David Walliams to deliver The Midnight Gang on Chichester's stage

Chichester's is a stage Bryony Lavery knows very well indeed.

Tuesday, 16th October 2018, 8:15 am
David Walliams, Bryony Lavery & the children of The Midnight Gang at Chichester Festival Theatre Photo Manuel Harlan
David Walliams, Bryony Lavery & the children of The Midnight Gang at Chichester Festival Theatre Photo Manuel Harlan

Her Chichester Festival Youth Theatre adaptations have included The Hundred and One Dalmatians (2014) and A Christmas Carol (2015).

Now she is working with musician and composer Joe Stilgoe – just as she did on The Jungle Book in 2017 – on bringing David Walliams’ novel The Midnight Gang to the CFT stage in a production running until November 3.

“I love the theatre there. It is big and it is friendly. And I have been adapting this with a team that I have worked with before. Simon Higlett is the designer, and I knew that he would produce something very handsome visually and would be great fun for all the gags in the show.

“And of course, I have worked with (director) Dale Rooks before. When she asked me to do this, I said yes. I didn’t know the book. It was a very quick decision. They rang me and I said I would read it, and as soon as I read it, I thought that it would work really well on stage. It is very dramatically written, very theatrically dramatic. I kept thinking that the people speak with lots of exclamation marks and capital letters and italics, which I like. It is full of very excitable dialogue.”

An inventive tale of fun, friendship and the importance of kindness, it is based on David’s biggest-selling children’s book of 2016.

A bang on the head during a cricket match at his boarding school has landed twelve-year-old Tom in the children’s ward of the spooky Lord Funt Hospital.

Luckily, he’s not on his own with the child-hating Matron and the scary-looking Porter. George, Amber, Robin and Sally are in there too, and they’re not taking things lying down. When the lights go out and the clock strikes twelve, they’re off. But will they let new boy Tom join their forbidden midnight adventures through the hospital’s labyrinthine realm?

“It is set in a grim hospital, but it is about a reversal. It starts off in this grim cheerless hospital, but by the end the baddies have been trounced. The matron is the main baddie. She hates children. I did write her a back story, but there is no back story as to why in the book, and I decided that it is just better like that. She just hates children!”

When it comes to adapting, the tools of Bryony’s trade are coloured highlighters.

“I always buy two copies of the book. I am so not in favour of messing up books, but I have to when I adapt. You have to see how much or how little dialogue you can take out. One colour is for picking up the dialogue and seeing how spare it can be. And there this is another highlighter for the descriptions of the area for thinking about what scenes there should be in it. The third highlighter is for what anyone says about anybody else, also for what the author says the characters are like.

“I have really fallen in love with adapting. I do one or two original pieces a year, but the rest of the time I am working with co-authors who have done so much of the work for me! It is like a great game I am playing with them.”

Two or three time she has worked with the author. Bryony is doing the stage adaption for The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold: “And we got some good notes from Alice for that.

“For this, David Walliams came to the first read-through, and he came in and also had some great notes. I don’t think he had read the adaptation before that, but he had some great ideas for one or two gags.”