Russ Tunney, Artistic Director of The Nuffield Theatre and long time Aiken admirer has adapted and premiered a gloriously funny and faithful stage version of Joan Aiken’s classic children’s book The Wolves of Willoughby Chase which is just celebrating its 50th Anniversary. The adaptation is published today by Nick Hern Books in a practical edition with performance notes and background information, and lends itself usefully to a cast of anything from five incredibly active quick change artists to a large cast and possibly even a chorus of children, with music and songs and plenty of laughs.
Using all the tongue in cheek humour of the original story and its gothic thrills and adventures, Russ has also added some ‘more than Aiken’ touches of his own – including the deliciously ridiculous ‘Cheese Alphabet’ recited by the hapless starving orphans, including our two wretched heroines, in the dreadful Blastburn School run by beastly Mrs Brisket.
When the school inspector comes to call they are dragged to their feet to recite:
MRS BRISKET. Show the nice man from from Ofsted our
advanced literacy: The Cheese Alphabet!
CHILDREN. A is for Applewood Smoked, B is for Brie, C is
for Cheshire, D is for Davidstow, E is for Edam, F is for Feta
(or Fromage), G is for Gruyère, H is for Halloumi, I is for
Ibérico, J is for Jarlsberg, K is for Klosterkäse, L is for
Leicester (red), M is for Mascarpone, Manchego or
Monterey Jack, N is for Neufchâtel, O is for Orkney Extra
Mature, P is for Parmesan, Q is for Queso Jalapeño, R is for
Raclette, S is for Stilton, T is for Tasmania Highland Chevre
Log, U is for Ubriaco, V is for Vacherin Fribourgeois, W is
for Wensleydale, X is for Xynotyro, Y is for Yorkshire Blue,
and Z is for Zanetti Grana Padano.
INSPECTOR. Incredible! They really know their cheeses!
MRS BRISKET. Thank you, Inspector. We do, here at the
Brisket Blastburn Academy for Girls, concentrate on the
three R’s. Reading, Writing and Really tasty snacks.
An absolute delight! – the Stage review of the première says it all:
“The Wolves of Willoughby Chase has never been adapted for the stage before, according to Forest Forge artistic director Kirstie Davis, and I can’t think why not.
Joan Aiken’s children’s classic about two young girls and a goose-boy fighting for survival against howling wolves and grim governesses in a bleak snowy landscape is a gift for any company as family entertainment.
Russ Tunney’s script (the show is a collaboration with the Nuffield Theatre where Tunney is associatedirector) blends melodrama, comedy, adventure and a little spookiness interwoven with songs and dances. Into the mix goes Rebecca Applin’s atmospheric music and Helen Stewart’s sloping set of panelled walls and jagged floorboards, plus Forest Forge’s trademarks of multi-function set and actors nipping in and out of costume and character at high speed. Davis weaves it all into a glorious snuggle down and enjoy Christmas present of a production that will charm children and adults alike. As the young heroines, Clare Fraenkel’s bright-eyed, feisty Bonnie and Julie Rose Smith’s timid Sylvia are enchanting without being irritating – which says a lot. Michael Cole,Michael Magnet and Thomas Gilbey play everyone else from sinister Miss Slighcarp and her shifty sidekick to trusty Simon and coarse Mrs Brisket, with Cole’s wretched workhouse girl a particular gem.
Wonderful stuff – worth wrapping up warm and turning out on a freezing night for.”
Lesley Bates, The Stage
And it has wolves of course….!