David Wood Q&A
November 18, 2016
David Wood OBE is an Olivier-Award winning writer for children, and previously adapted Polka’s enormously popular stage show of James and the Giant Peach. We talked to him about adapting Babe, the Sheep-Pig, which is on Polka’s Main Stage 25 Nov 2016 – 5 Feb 2017.
- Why did you choose to adapt Babe, the Sheep-Pig?
Shortly after it was published in 1983, my wife and I read Dick King-Smith’s The Sheep Pig to our two daughters. We all loved it. It was – and still is – one of those books you can’t put down. Funny, exciting, moving and beautifully written in a deceptively simple style, it was, I felt sure, destined to become a classic. The film version, entitled Babe, further popularised the story, and I felt proud and privileged to be entrusted with its transition from page to stage. Adaptation is always more enjoyable when the source material is really special.
- What did you enjoy about adapting it for stage?
Stories in which an underdog (in this case, underpig!) triumphs against adversity and wins the day, thanks to their bravery and determination, have always fascinated and inspired me. Many of my plays are adapted from stories in which we root for the disadvantaged main character, empathise with them during their troubles, and celebrate with them when they succeed, against all the odds, at the end. Think James in Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach, William Beech in Michelle Magorian’s Goodnight Mister Tom or Sophie in Dahl’s The BFG. Babe, the sad little pig, the runt of the litter, is at first bullied in the farmyard. My job as playwright is to make the audience feel emotionally involved and want him to succeed. I particularly enjoyed writing the last scenes in which Babe triumphs. Hopefully the audience will find them heart-warming too!
- What was the hardest part about adapting it?
As in several famous children’s stories, such as Charlotte’s Web, the animals talk. They speak to each other. And there are human beings. They talk too! To enable us to understand what they are saying, both animals and humans talk the same language, in our case, English. What was tricky, I found, was making sure that there was never a situation on stage when it might look as though the animals could understand the human beings when they talked, or vice versa. Furthermore Farmer Hoggett often speaks to Babe, just as we might speak to a pet dog or cat, but we must never feel that Babe understands his actual words. He only comprehends the warmth and encouragement given to him by the farmer. It must never resemble a Doctor Dolittle situation, in which he can actually talk to the animals.
- What do you think children will enjoy the most about the play?
Babe, the Sheep-Pig has lots of ingredients that children enjoy – animals, humour, the depiction of bravery and friendship, as well as a range of interesting characters. Also, there is audience participation, in which the audience is invited to help Babe in his final test. By feeling part of the story, I hope that children will leave the theatre in high spirits, having shared the triumph of our hero!
- Will parents also enjoy it?
If they are anything like my wife and me, they will have enjoyed reading the book and, perhaps, seeing the film. That’s a good start! But I think adults always enjoy a story in which a brave heart and determined spirit defeats scepticism and unpleasantness. The main test, of course, is whether their children enjoy the play. If they do, their parents will enjoy it even more.