Thursday, 4 September 2014

Interview: Michael Morpurgo

Friend or Foe is the latest of Michael Morpurgo’s books to be adapted for the stage. 

Following last year’s production of The Butterfly Lion, Friend or Foe runs at the Mercury Theatre in Colchester until Saturday 13th September 2014.

Friend or Foe has been adapted by the Mercury Theatre’s Artistic Director Daniel Buckroyd who has worked closely with Michael. Matthew Cullum directs. 

The show is described as a "thrilling tale of extraordinary friendship which will appeal to adults and children alike."

Evacuated from London at the height of the Second World War, David and Tucky can’t help feeling as though the fighting is a long way from their new lives in the countryside. But then suddenly one night, the skyline is lit up with gun flashes and the distant sound of bombing shatters their new found peace. When a German plane crashes on their farm the boys are plunged into a breathtaking adventure and faced with a life-and-death moral dilemma.

Michael Morpurgo's most successful stage adaptation to date is War Horse which is produced by the National Theatre. War Horse, which has been seen by over 5 million people worldwide, is currently celebrating its eighth year on the London stage. 

Michael speaks to West End Frame about collaborating with some of the greatest theatre directors, how he feels watching his work being brought to life on stage and the tremendous success of War Horse…

Your work always seems to translate incredibly well on stage. What’s your secret? Not all books work as plays!
I have been very lucky I think. My work has given me the opportunity to work with some of the greatest theatre directors including Tom Morris and Marianne Elliott for War Horse, but also Simon Reade, who adapted Private Peaceful and the Mozart Question for stage and radio, and Daniel Buckroyd for Friend or Foe and Farm Boy. It certainly has given my writing another dimension. I feel more and more that my writing is bound up in performance in some way.

Your stories seem to naturally work as pieces of theatre…
I always speak my story down onto the page to hear how it sounds. When I am writing well I’m deep inside a story, living it as I write it and also feeling it deeply. This is when the story really begins to work. I hope that readers will become completely involved in my story as they are reading – in much the same way that people in the theatre suspend disbelief so that a puppet horse can become a living, breathing creature.

How do you feel when watching your work being brought to life and performed on stage?
I love seeing my work brought to life on stage. I love the theatre and feel a huge empathy with theatre people. Perhaps it is something to do with my background – both my parents were actors and my grandparents before them.

The cast of Friend or Foe

Are you always keen to be involved with stage adaptions of your work? I know you’ve collaborated closely with Daniel Buckroyd on this stage adaptation of Friend or Foe…
Sometimes I am more involved than other times, but I do like to be kept informed. However, the best kind of creative collaboration has to be based on trust. I think in adaption you have to trust and allow the experts to do what they do best, even if it isn’t always how you would have done it.

Growing up Friend or Foe was always my favourite of your books and I can image it working incredibly well on stage. Did you always think it would make a great piece of theatre?
No, I never think of a book as anything except a book, so when they are sometimes made into plays or films it is always a wonderful surprise.

The cast of Friend or Foe
How do you think seeing the piece performed live on stage will enhance the story?
What’s wonderful about the stage adaptation is that it shines new light on a character and relationship. This means that the plot seems more powerful and more engaging.

Your most successful stage adaptation to date is War Horse. Could you ever have predicted its huge success? Do the show’s global achievements continue to surprise you?
I am continually amazed both at my luck but also how the play has continued to capture people’s imagination. Each year I think ‘this will be the year when the tickets sales drop away’ but it never seems to happen. Joey just seems to run and run. 

Are you still involved with the production?
I do try to keep involved as much as I can and offer advice when the NT team wants it. I always try and go and talk to the new cast – and have been to the US for the tour there, as well as Berlin and Amsterdam. I can talk to them about the origin of the book and about Devon and bring it back to its roots.

Interview by Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

Friend or Foe runs at the Mercury Theatre in Colchester until Saturday 13th September 2014.
Please visit for further information and tickets.

Photo Credit 2-3: Robert Day

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