Back in 2000, writer David Wood was approached to adapt Philippa Pearce’s best-selling children’s sci-fi novel Tom’s Midnight Garden into a stage play.
The story of a young boy quarantined in an old Victorian manor house who can slip back in time to the 1880s had already been successfully turned into three separate television series and a film – but Wood was, at first, sceptical.
“When I was asked to adapt it I said no immediately, I thought it had already been done, but I was totally wrong,” says Wood.
“I went to see Philippa in Cambridge, she lives yards away from the house where it [Tom’s Midnight Garden] takes place.
“It was my job to convince her that it could be adapted.”
The author took some convincing.
“When I first discussed it with her she had refused, saying that the two times zones would lead to too many problems,” says Wood.
“She didn’t think a naturalistic set would have been possible, and be very boring with all those scene changes.”
To alleviate these fears Wood came up with a solution.
Action taking place in the earlier setting would rely on mimed props, and realistic costume would instead dictate the period.
The show takes place between two different time periods - the 1950s and the late 1800s
“She [Pearce] was very engaged with process [of adaptation]. Many authors aren’t but she was.
“When we first saw it together she said: “Oh is that you or me, I hope it’s me, that’s really rather good.”
Pearce died aged 86 in 2006 – but the award-winning stage adaptation of her celebrated story lives on.
“Children are totally sucked in by the two times zones, neither of which they have any experience of,” says Wood.
“In the play you can hear a pin drop, it’s mystical and very theatrical, adults burst into tears, but the children have already guessed ahead and love having their suspicions confirmed”.
The show has been going strong for 14 years
Tom’s Midnight Garden opens at the Rose Theatre in Kingston tonight, and Wood said the High Street venue was ideal for the show.
“One of the functions of local theatres such as the Rose is to cater for children,” he says.
“Children’s theatre should not be thought of a lesser beast and there is no reason why younger people shouldn’t have a right to theatre.”
Tom’s Midnight Garden, Rose Theatre, High Street, Kingston Tuesday, March 4 to Sunday March 8 at the Rose Theatre Kingston, Tickets £5 £22, Call 08444 821 556 or visit rosetheatrekingston.org