Andy Stanton’s surreal Mr Gum comes to the National Theatre
PUBLISHED: 15:46 18 July 2019
The Holloway children’s author translates the surreal and silly world of Lamonic Bibber into a stage musical
Those uninitiated into the gloriously surreal world of Lamonic Bibber are in for a treat at the National Theatre.
And for diehard 'Gummites" author Andy Stanton promises Mr Gum and The Dancing Bear has "plenty of easter eggs" and in-jokes to enjoy.
"A book is unread until it's read and a play doesn't have to stand propped up by the book," says the Holloway author. "I am always conscious of what a reader might know or not know and it has to work in its own right. But there are things to spot and props that speak to the books. I always love playing games in the books and with theatre I have a whole new toolbox to play with."
Ever since You're A Bad Man Mr Gum won the Red House prize back in 2006, Stanton's zany rhymes, humour and word play has been winning over fans.
In our house they persuaded a reluctant dyslexic 10-year-old to read independently for the first time.
He had "a lot of near misses" with translating the books from page to stage before the National Theatre approached him about a musical. "I've pursued adaptations before but it's never been right, and I hate the idea of just doing something because you can, I want it to be good," he says.
"The books are so intimately entwined with my stupid mind that it would be hard to do it without me,and deep down I couldn't let them. But I went into the meeting thinking they were asking if they could give it to someone else and I was just about to surrender and give it over. But that's not what they wanted at all," says Stanton adding: "I don't know if I am the best person to do it but I'm the only person and that's a curse."
Luckily, like the ending of a good Mr Gum adventure, it worked out brilliantly
"It's a piece of luck!" he enthuses. "It's probably the most exciting ride of my life, so so different from sitting alone working at home. You are suddenly surrounded by a bunch of incredible beings who are real experts in their different fields. I absolutely love it. It's corny but it's been a real growing experience."
For the clueless the opening number will be a big song introducing the town of Lamonic Bibber and its residents; nine-year-old Polly, Friday O'Leary, Alan Taylor, a gingerbread headteacher with electric muscles, Jonathan Ripples, Martin Laundrette and of course disgusting villain Mr Gum and his sidekick Billy William III.
When a bear called Padlock has to be rescued from the evil clutches of Mr Gum, our heroes enlist the crew and captain of The Nantucket Tickler and a hot air balloon to get him back home.
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Stanton says not only is it his favourite story but it "has the most legs and depth for a musical with scene changes and an emotional arc that will carry a show."
Making it work for theatre has been "the world's best headache".
"It's the squaring of a circle, writing is always about solving problems but this is like doing a 3D crossword while playing inter-dimensional chess in space."
It has meant collaborating with a designer, composer and puppetteer to create Alan Taylor and Padlock puppets.
"I have lived with Mr Gum for 13 years now and I do have to give over my baby to sit up and do things with and take out ot the park, but we are all walking hand in hand.
"It's very hard for me to rescind control but they are making it easy, everyone is so collaborative but it's got to be given space to breath and for people to apply their expertise but they have really captured the spirit of it, it is absoloutely true and getting truer all the time to be a surer vision."
Luckily also musicals are one of Stanton's "secret loves".
"I'm not an expert but I love their blend of sophisticated artistry and absolutely brazen emotional manipulation that makes me laugh," he says pointing out that being silly but deceptively sophisticated is 'very Mr Gum '.
"A musical brings fun, excitement and crucially emotion. In every book there is always one song - I know the tune when I write it - Roald Dahl used to have rhymes and songs in his books and I think I get it from there, I love the rhythm of language and music is an extension of that, it's also an emotional short cut that can unite the audience make them sad, uplifted hopefully take them by sfr."
Having to come up with silly titles for the shelves in a character's house - seeing his creation in 3D - and breaking the fourth wall to "show you how it's done" is all heaps of fun.
"I like to dial some of that meta stuff, but you have to balance having fun and not breaking people out of the story to Keep the emotional investment and dramatic interest.
"Audiences can expect something utterly magpie-ish held together by massive spirit and heart to get everyone buzzing with lots of silly moments sudden twists and grab the emotions."
Mr Gum and The Dancing Bear the Musical runs at the National Theatre's Dorfman Theatre from July 25-August 31. For ages 7 upwards. nationaltheatre.org.uk