How playwright brought the BFG to the stage

Abigail SaltmarshThe BFG is stomping back into Norwich. We caught up with children's playwright David Wood, the pen behind the stage adaptation of Roald Dahl's colourful classic.Abigail Saltmarsh

David Wood may have been writing children's plays for more than 40 years� , he may have penned more than 70 scripts, written numerous kids' TV shows and been awarded an OBE - but he says people still dismiss his work because of the age of his audiences.

'It has always annoyed me how much children's writing has been sidelined,' he admitted. 'It happens whenever anyone asks me what I do - there's always a slight raising of the eyebrows.

'I was explaining to a woman who'd asked me what I did at a party once. I could see her eyes glazing over and then she said: 'But when are you going to write a real play!''

David, whose 'real' plays are now staged right across the world, is the acclaimed writer behind the stage adaptation of Roald Dahl's BFG, that opens at the Theatre Royal on Tuesday.

He wrote his first children's play in 1967, an adaptation of Hans Christian Anderson's The Tinderbox, and before long was in hot demand from producers across the country.

'People have this idea that it's easy to write for children but I find it far more challenging than writing for adults. If an adult doesn't like a play, he or she will still go to the theatre again.

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'With a child there's always the danger of completely putting them off. You have to work hard to keep them interested.

'If they are bored, they'll soon let you know about it. They will kick the seats, talk and get up to go to the lavatory all the time!'

David's many successes include Babe, the Sheep Pig, the Plotters of Cabbage Patch Corner and Robin Hood.

Some of his commissions come from producers with an idea in mind - others derive from children's stories David has discovered for himself.

'The Tiger Who Came to Tea was one of the books my daughters used to love having read to them. When someone asked me if I could adapt it for the stage I was thrilled and couldn't believe I hadn't thought of it before.

'Another time I was reading to one of my daughters from a book I hadn't seen before called Dinosaurs and All that Rubbish. Usually I would leave her with the book to read in bed afterwards but this time I said: 'No, Daddy needs it!''

David knew the author Michael Foreman had illustrated Terry Jones's fairytales, so he called Terry - who was a friend from university - that very night.

'I then called Michael there and then, and asked him if I could do it - and he said yes,' he added.

Having adapted several of Roald Dahl's best-known children's novels for the stage, David said he feels privileged to have been able to work with the stories.

'He is very theatrical in his writing so most of them work very well on stage. Some people do complain that he's subversive but I love the way he gets into the mind of the child and puts the child in a position of control.

'Yes, his characters do cock a snook at authority but his stories aren't immoral or amoral - right always wins in the end like it does in a fairy story,' he said.

Despite his love of Dahl, however, David resisted adapting the BFG for some time. He was asked to do it three times, in fact, before he finally agreed.

The story focuses on little orphan Sophie, who is snatched out of her bed in the dead of night by a giant - the BFG.

His grisly neighbours the Bloodbottler and the Fleshlumpeater like nothing more than 'swalloping human beans,' especially nice little 'chiddlers,' but the Big Friendly Giant turns out to be a dream catcher and not a man-eater - and he takes Sophie on a journey she never expected.

'The BFG was a great big problem,' said David. 'I couldn't think how to make the giant work and I didn't want the children to be disappointed.'

But when David was doing one of his story-telling sessions in a school, he suddenly came up with the idea of using a doll as the lead character of Sophie while adults played the giants.

'In fact, I then went on to change it in the second half. Here there are lots of humans and just one giant so there's a change and the giant is played by a huge puppet and an actor plays Sophie.'

The play is given a 'framing device,' which allows David to use these theatrical techniques. It begins at a children's party where those present start to tell and act in the story.

'There are two versions of the BFG now. The Americans wanted one without the framing device but I still prefer the version that's coming to Norwich,' he said.

David, who also penned the script for the famous Swallows and Amazons film, is currently busy on a number of projects, as well as steadfastly promoting children's theatre, TV and books in his role as chairman of the Action for Children's Arts group.

'There is one children's story I would particularly like to do - that's Goodnight Mr Tom, by Michelle Magorian,' he said.

'For me there is nothing more enjoyable than writing for children. Watching them riveted to something I have written is hugely rewarding.'

The BFG is at Norwich Theatre Royal until Saturday, September 26, �17.50-�5, 01603 630000,