Mr Benn brings 1970s TV classic to Edinburgh Festival stage
Kids show from makers of The Gruffalo and Room on the Broom
This article is from 2011.
Anyone who has seen The Gruffalo, Room on the Broom or any of the other wonderful shows Tall Stories has staged over the years, will know that the company is no stranger to adaptation. This time, however, they’ve moved away from children’s picture books to the land of 1970s television.
Created by David McKee, Mr Benn appeared on the BBC between 1971 and 1972, but its appeal lives on. What was it about the TV show that interested Tall Stories? ‘The whole concept of Mr Benn is hugely theatrical,’ says Olivia Jacobs, joint artistic director of Tall Stories. ‘An ordinary man who chooses a costume and travels into a different story for a while. It seemed a very natural step to invite Mr Benn onto the stage.’
Exactly how to stage it led to a number of dilemmas, however. McKee made 14 episodes of the programme, filled with memorable music and characters for Jacobs to choose from. ‘We had a huge amount of decisions to make,’ she recalls. ‘Should we use the original music? Would it be acceptable to add new songs? How would we take Mr Benn from one world to the next on stage? Would we tell existing stories from the original series or create new ones?’
In the end, Jacobs and her team blended old and new, taking into account nostalgic parents and children for whom Mr Benn is an unknown concept. ‘We were keen to retain the most important elements of the original series, whist making sure the show stood alone for those who didn’t know Mr Benn,’ says Jacobs. ‘And hopefully we managed to achieve a good balance. So far feedback from our audiences has been great – the show stands alone and you don’t need to know Mr Benn to enjoy it, but there are definitely classic moments that die-hard Mr Benn fans will love.’
Pleasance Courtyard, 556 6550, 4–18 Aug (not 6), 11.30am, £8.50–£9.50 (£7.50–£8.50). Preview 3 Aug, £5.