Could you tell us a little about THE WOLVES OF WILOUGHBY CHASE
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase was written by Joan Aiken in 1962. It was the first of a series of 12 books set in her own historical world, an imagined world where truly amazing things can and do happen.
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase starts in 1832, ‘a time that never was.’ King James III is on the throne, and the country is being ravaged by wolves which have migrated through the channel tunnel. That is the starting point of the book, but the story is a mystery and an adventure, as two young cousins are plunged in to a very adult world of plotting and treachery.
It is almost Dickensian at times, it’s both funny and melodramatic, and introduces some memorable characters and surprising plots twists. There is plenty of scheming and villainy, close escapes and secret passages ways, and of course wolves.
The adaptation is by Russ Tunney, theatre director and playwright. Russ has adapted four books by Joan Aiken: The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Midnight is a Place, Arabel's Raven and Arabel and the Escaped Black Mamba. The adaptation of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase was first produced at the Nuffield Theatre, Southampton, in 2010, before touring the UK. We’re delighted to be reviving it in London.
In the past you’ve used virtuoso special effects. Could you tell us what goes into making one of these and your role in achieving it.
It’s a real challenge to create an effect that the audience might not expect in a small studio space. For The Haunting we had two way mirrors, gaps in the set for ghosts to walk through, and doors which could fly open with no one seemingly there.
In last year’s The Hound of the Baskervilles a life size dummy, (the body of the escaped convict Seldon), was suspended on the ceiling throughout the first half of the play. This then dropped to the floor at an appropriately dramatic moment when the magnetic charge was released. So the audience experienced Seldon falling off a cliff top, whilst being pursued by a deadly hound. The effect was both silly and scary, which was very much in the spirit of that production.
Everyone works to create these effects, they often come from suggestions in rehearsal by myself, the creative team and the cast, as we find imaginative ways to stage certain parts of our story. The set designer Karl then has to work out how to make these happen, and come up with some quite ingenious solutions.
I’m sure you have some research or other work to do before beginning rehearsals, what has it been like for THE WOLVES OF WILLOUGHBY CHASE?
I went back to reading the novel, and then spent plenty of time reading the script to get familiar with the world of the play. Before rehearsals begin, as the Christmas shows are usually very technical, I spend a lot of time going through the various elements of the production - sound, light, costume, set and props - with the different designers, to work through what we need to bring the production to life. I can then go into rehearsals having a feel for what I want to achieve in the staging, and how we might be able to make this happen. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is particularly magical, so a lot of preparation has focused on the set, sound and music.
Is your rehearsal schedule going to be crazy?
I’m looking forward to rehearsals! As Artistic Director of the Jack a great deal of my time is focused on supporting other companies with the running of their productions, looking at everything from script selection to marketing and ticket sales. That’s an important part of what I do at the Jack. So it’s a real joy to be back in the rehearsal room, concentrating on directing my own production for the theatre.
The schedule isn’t particularly crazy. But I will still be looking after the Jack whilst working on Willoughby Chase, and need to make sure I have time for both.
What’s your favourite thing about being the director for this show?
We’ve only just started rehearsals, but as always my favourite thing will be collaborating with some great designers, and directing a really fabulous cast. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase also incorporates music throughout with songs and new compositions. Elliot Clay, who wrote the music for The State of Things, which was performed at the Jack in September, has composed a beautifully atmospheric score, which I’m thrilled to be working with.
The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is also the Jack’s Christmas show, which have become a real tradition at the theatre. I’m proud to direct these, and bring the year at the Jack to an end. But it does bring a real sense of responsibility. All of us who work on these productions don’t want the audience to be disappointed! So our aim is to find a thrilling story, and tell it in a way which is inventive, engaging and most of all enjoyable.
THE WOLVES OF WILLOUGHBY CHASE by Joan Aiken
adapted for the stage by Russ Tunney
Brockley Jack Studio Theatre
410 Brockley Road, London, SE4 2DH
Wednesday 13 December 2017 to Saturday 6 January 2018
It is 1832. Wolves roam England, terrorising the countryside in greater numbers than ever before.
At the Willoughby Estate, in the grip of a cruel winter, Bonnie and her orphaned cousin Sylvia are left in the care of the equally chilling governess Miss Slighcarp, whose mysterious plans place the future of Willoughby Chase at risk.
As the wolves circle ever closer, the cousins must uncover the treachery that puts their lives in danger and embark on an epic adventure which takes them from the snowy grounds of Willoughby Chase to the dark heart of London.
Joan Aiken's classic novel, loved by generations, is brought to life in this thrilling, funny and heart-warming adaptation. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is produced by the same team behind The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Haunting and The Mystery of Irma Vep.