Tall Stories venture into the deep dark wood for ‘scary fun’ in The Gruffalo’s Child at York Theatre Royal from Thursday

Harriet Waters and Maxwell Tyler in illustrator Axel Scheffler’s “favourite moment” from Tall Stories’ stage adaptation of The Gruffalo’s Child. Picture: Charlie Flint

THE Gruffalo’s Child will be on an adventurous mission at York Theatre Royal from February 1 to 3 in in Tall Stories’ enchanting adaptation of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s picture book.

One wild and windy night, the Gruffalo’s Child ignores her father’s warnings about the Big Bad Mouse and tiptoes out into the deep dark wood, where she will follow snowy tracks and encounter mysterious creatures.

But the Big Bad Mouse doesn’t really exist…or does he? “Let your imagination run wild with songs, laughs and scary fun for everyone aged 3 to 103,” reads the invitation from director Olivia Jacobs, co-founder of Islington company Tall Stories, whose cast comprises Harriet Waters, Maxwell Tyler, Samuel Tracy and understudy Pip Simpson.  

Harriet Waters and Samuel Tracy in a scene from Tall Stories’ The Gruffalo’s Child. Picture: Charlie Flint

After seeing her book brought to life on stage, writer Julia Donaldson said: “Tall Stories bring their own special magic to their stage productions based on my books. Children will love entering the atmosphere of the deep dark wood and enjoy the catchy songs. The Big Bad Mouse is worth waiting for.” Ah, too late for a spoiler alert!

Illustrator Axel Scheffler enjoyed the show, saying afterwards: “The snowy deep dark wood based on my illustrations is brought to life by Tall Stories and it almost becomes a character in its own right in their production. A favourite moment for me is when the Gruffalo’s Child sits on the Gruffalo’s lap and the book cover image is created on the stage. I think the young audience will enjoy it very much.”

Tall Stories in The Gruffalo’s Child, York Theatre Royal, February 1, 1.30pm and 4.30pm; February 2, 1pm (relaxed performance) and 4.30pm; February 3, 10.30am and 1.30pm. Running time: 60 minutes. Age guidance: 3+. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.

Julia Donaldson’s lift-the-flap Tales From Acorn Wood stories transfer to York Theatre Royal stage in NLP premiere

Who’s keeping tired Rabbit awake in NLP’s staging of Tales From Acorn Woods?

NLP’S world premiere staging of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s Tales From Acorn Wood visits York Theatre Royal on January 26 and 27.

Based on favourite stories from their lift-the flap books for pre-school children, the 50-minute touring show is suitable for one-year-olds and upwards or anyone who loves books.

In Tales From Acorn Wood, poor old Fox has lost his socks, but are they in the kitchen or inside the clock? Meanwhile, who’s keeping tired Rabbit awake?

Audiences can join in with Pig and Hen’s game of hide-and-seek and discover the special surprise Postman Bear is planning for his friends in a show full of songs and beautifully crafted puppets.

NLP (No Limit People) feature projection in their staging, along with technology that incorporates the book’s lift-the-flap elements.

Donaldson says: “I am really happy that the Tales from AcornWood are now moving to the stage. Fans of the books are bound to enjoy seeing the four main characters – Fox, Bear, Pig and Rabbit – brought to life through NLP’s clever staging. Live performance and songs are both very close to my heart and I am sure this production will delight children and families.”

“I am sure this production will delight children and families,” says writer Julia Donaldson

Scheffler enthuses: “I have always enjoyed illustrating the Tales From Acorn Wood stories; the wide cast of animal friends is fun to draw, and I enjoy developing their world through my pictures.

“I am very pleased that the NLP team is using state of the art staging and technology to create a brilliant experience for children, and I am looking forward to seeing it all, especially how they create the lift-th- flap effects on stage!”

In NLP’s creative team, puppet director and choreographer Johnny Autin is working alongside director Brad Fitt, production designer Ian Westbrook, motion graphic designer Louise Rhoades-Brown and lighting designer Alex Musgrave. Miles Russell is the composer and musical director; Entify’s Deborah Mingham has designed and created the props and puppets.

Tales From Acorn Wood has been made by the producing team behind Rod Campbell’s Dear Zoo Live and Dear Santa Live. 

Derrick Gask, NLP’s company director and general manager, says: “As a theatre production company, we’re all incredibly excited to be working with such a prestigious creative team, to bring these much-loved children’s books to life. At NLP, we’re passionate about producing live theatre that inspires and entertains, and we’re in no doubt that the Tales From Acorn Wood will do just that.”

NLP presents Tales From Acorn Wood at York Theatre Royal on January 26, 4pm, and January 27, 11am and 2pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk

“At NLP, we’re passionate about producing live theatre that inspires and entertains,” says company director Derrick Gask

Julia Donaldson’s dragon Zog has lift-off in second stage call on flying doctor duty

Zog and Si Gadabout in Zog And The Flying Doctors

JULIA Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s Zog And The Flying Doctors swoops in on York Theatre Royal in Freckle Productions and Rose Theatre’s world premiere tour on June 24 and June 25.

Dragon Zog, super-keen student turned air-ambulance, lands with a crash-bang-thump in a rhyming story for children aged three upwards. Zog and his Flying Doctor crew, Princess Pearl and Sir Gadabout, must tend to a sunburnt mermaid, a unicorn with one too many horns and a lion with the flu.

Alas, Pearl’s uncle, the King, has other ideas as to whether princesses should be doctors, and soon she is locked up in the castle, in a crown and silly frilly dress once more.

However, with help from friends and half a pound of cheese, can Pearl make her uncle better and prove princesses can be doctors too?

Princess Pearl: “Locked up in the castle, in a crown and silly frilly dress”

Freckle Productions reunites the creative team behind Zog, Emma Kilbey and Joe Stilgoe, for this modern take on a classic fairytale.

Where did Julia Donaldson’s inspiration for Zog come from? “Well, that one was quite unusual, in that the initial idea didn’t come from me. My editor said to me, ‘it would be lovely to have a story about a dragon’, so I started thinking about it and the name ‘Madam Dragon’ came into my head, which I thought had a nice sound.

“And then I thought, ‘what could Madame Dragon do, who could she be?’. I came up with various ideas and a schoolteacher was one of them, so I took it from there. Originally it was going to be about a knight and a dragon, but it ended up being about a Princess and a dragon – the story came to me bit by bit”.

Julia’s husband, Malcolm, who is a doctor, had some input here. “When I was planning the story, I knew that Zog would keep meeting the Princess, and originally I was going to have them play together and toast marshmallows,” she recalls. “Malcolm said, ‘that’s a bit soppy, couldn’t it be something with a bit more oomph?’. And then I came up with the doctor angle”.

Zog writer Julia Donaldson

Zog is far from the first animal to star in one of Julia’s stories. Whether a cat in Tabby McTat, a fish in Tiddler or the iconic Gruffalo, animals are regularly Julia’s most memorable creations. “It’s often used as a convention – like in Aesop’s Fables, where the animals aren’t really animals; they represent a quality or a characteristic,” she says.

“I also think it would be far more boring for the reader if Mouse in The Gruffalo was just a small but clever person, or The Gruffalo itself was a big, scary but rather stupid person. Or, in The Snail And The Whale, if the Whale was just a big person and the Snail a little person; I think you need animals to represent the qualities”.

One enduring facet of Julia’s stories is her partnership with German illustrator and animator Axel Scheffler, who has brought so many of her characters to life. How does this collaboration work? “It’s always through the editor,” Julia reveals.

“I never exchange a word with Axel about the pictures until my editor shows him the book – and then I have a nail-biting moment, wondering if he likes it and wants to do it. Then he’ll do some character sketches which I’ll look at.

The King lays the down the law in Zog And The Flying Doctors

“Sometimes, after he’s created sketches for every picture, I’ll think ‘oh hang on, I’m going to change that little bit of text, because I like what he’s done with that’.”

When Julia has had the characters in her head for so long, what happens if the illustrations turn out to be different to what she imagined? “I always say it’s like going on holiday:  you’ve got an idea in your head of how it’s going to be, and then it’s always totally different. But once you’re there and enjoying it, you just forget what was in your head before,” she says.

“Also, I usually know when I’m writing something whether I want Axel to work on it – in which case I’ve got his style in my head as I’m working. It doesn’t influence the storyline, but it will influence how I picture the characters. So, I’m usually not surprised when I see Axel’s interpretation.”

Many of Julia’s books have been adapted for film or theatre, where they are reimagined all over again. “For me, it’s like an extension of working with an illustrator,” she says.

Leap to it: Zog takes to the air

“Handing it over to a theatre company or film company, you know it’s going to change a bit; the end product will be a blend of my words and their artistic vision. And they do usually consult me and tell me what they’ve got in mind.”

Stage adaptations of Julia and Axel’s books, from Zog to Stick Man, are often a child’s first experience of live theatre, much to Julia’s delight. “I remember going to see The Nutcracker when I was a child and I found the whole thing completely magical. I can still remember how I felt when the curtain went up,” Julia says.

“I suppose in a way it’s the same thing that a book gives you, in that while you’re reading or watching, you believe in a different reality. And if it’s a good show, parents love to see that their children – even very young ones – can just be transfixed by it.”

Freckle Productions and Rose Theatre present Zog And The Flying Doctors, York Theatre Royal, June 24, 4.30pm; June 25, 11am, 2pm and 4.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or yorktheatreroyal.co.uk.