The Boy Who Fell Into A Book: History

During 1998 - 1999, the United Kingdom held the National Year Of Reading, an initiative aimed at encouraging young people to read. To mark the event, Alan Ayckbourn wrote a play centred around the theme of reading, the family play The Boy Who Fell Into A Book.

It had been two years since Alan had last written a family show (
The Champion Of Paribanou) and the playwright once again pushed himself in a new direction with the story of a boy who finds himself and a hard-boiled fictional detective traversing the different worlds found within the books on the boy’s bookshelf.
Behind The Scenes: Kidnapped
Although Kevin finds himself lost in the books from his bookshelf, only one of them is a 'real' book - Robert Louis Stevenson's Kidnapped. The rest of the books are either generic titles or invented specifically for the play.
In interviews, Alan has said part of the inspiration for the play came from an earlier short piece which saw actors moving though different genres: this was The Inside Outside Slide Show, a Saturday morning play for children written in 1989 and featuring live action interacting with projected slides. Arguably, it was also inspired by the earlier genre-hopping full length play My Very Own Story.

Alan chose several varied literary genres for his hero to dive into not only for variety, but to add another hook to the play to keep youngsters interested. If one section did not hold their attention, there would be a new one coming soon. Each ‘book’ the play entered also changed the style of dialogue and presentation, which also offered an insight into the power of theatre. The choices of books (fairy-tale, ghost-story, pulp fiction, chess manual, Robert Louis Stevenson's
Kidnapped and a child's picture book) emphasised the diversity of literature and gave the play a constantly shifting mood.
Behind The Scenes: Woobly, Woobly
One of the most memorable scenes of the plays sees Kevin and Rockfist Slim wander into the pages of the baby-book The Wooblies' Picnic. The Wooblies - who say only "woobly, woobly" - were invented by Alan Ayckbourn as a direct pastiche of television characters such as The Teletubbies (and the original production costumes made this link with the over-sized primary coloured costumes). In the 2014 musical adaptation, the Wooblies became the Wubblies - saying only "wubbly, wubbly" - and the designs were more reminiscent of characters from the children's television series In The Night Garden.
The play opened in December 1998 at the Stephen Joseph Theatre to great interest with more than 60% of all tickets sold prior to the first performance. It was well-received by youngsters and adults and the critics were predominantly positive - although arguably the national newspapers by this stage were largely ignoring Alan’s writing for young people and the only national critic who attended the play was The Guardian’s Kate Bassett, who had not previously rated Alan’s work as a children’s dramatist. The play was a success though and was picked up for professional production very rapidly for one of Alan’s family plays and has proved to be a popular play ever since.

The Boy Who Fell Into A Book also marks the first time that Alan has been inspired to write an adult play from a family play, rather than vice-versa (it has long been noted that many of Alan's plays for families are often related to his adult plays such as Invisible Friends and Woman In Mind, Callisto 5 and Henceforward...). In 2005, he wrote the play Improbable Fiction, a comedy celebrating the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s 50th anniversary, which saw a bemused Pendon man moving between several different literary genres as a result of the musings of his writing society's members creations. This play seems to have been inspired by Alan's writing for young people and almost certainly from writing The Boy Who Fell Into A Book and to an extent My Very Own Story.

In July 2012,
The Boy Who Fell Into A Book received its professional London premiere with a production at the Soho Theatre as part of the London 2012 celebration. The play was also published by Faber in 2000.
Behind The Scenes: The Musical
The musical adaptation of The Boy Who Fell Into A Book is not considered to be written by Alan Ayckbourn nor part of the official Ayckbourn play canon; this is because Alan neither wrote nor adapted the play. It is credited as an adaptation by Paul James, Cathy Shostak and Eric Angus.
The play has also been adapted into a musical - with Alan Ayckbourn's permission - with book and lyrics by Paul James and music by Cathy Shostak and Eric Angus. One of the show's songs, Kaboom Kapow, won the Stiles And Drewe Best New Song prize at the 2011 Stephen Sondheim Society Student Performer Of The Year. This was workshopped with Alan Ayckbourn in London from 11 - 15 November 2013 and featured the Olivier award winning actress Janie Dee in the company. The musical received its world premiere at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, in July 2014, again directed by Alan Ayckbourn and was both critically acclaimed and was well-received by audiences (more details about the musical can be found here).

Article by Simon Murgatroyd. Copyright: Haydonning Ltd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.