The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas: From Page To Stage

Photo: Richard Gibbons

Photo: Richard Gibbons

Ahead of the stunning new production of The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas coming to The Marlowe Theatre in March, we found out about the adaptation process.

Al Senter spoke to the bestselling book’s author John Boyn and Angus Jackson, the man behind adapting the novel for the stage.

Every writer is different, of course, but one gets the impression that most of the breed like to work within a strict timetable with a regular amount of words recorded within a set number of hours. But the writer John Boyne took a very different approach when he sat down to compose the first draft of his best-selling novel The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Or rather, he was compelled by the power of his imagination to write in the white heat of creativity.

“The starting point for the novel was the image of two boys divided by a fence,” he recalls. “I knew where the fence was, I knew it was a place no one should be, let alone two children, but I was interested in the journey that would bring them there, the conversations they would have and the necessary end I felt their story would reach.  The idea was so powerful to me that I just had to get started – otherwise I’d have lost the story completely – and I wrote continuously from the Tuesday to the following Friday, which happened to be my birthday.

Of course, it was only a first draft and there would be a lot of rewrites to come but the basic premise came together in a short and intense period of time.  A lot of young people’s literature begins with a child being taken away from a place of safety and this is what happens to Bruno in the book, when he is forced to leave his friends, his grandparents and his home behind.”

Adaptor Angus Jackson is probably better known as an acclaimed theatre director and his productions have been seen at venues including Chichester Festival Theatre, the Royal National Theatre and in London’s West End.  Among his credits is a stage version of Goodnight Mister Tom, another popular book for younger readers. The stage play was produced by the Children’s Touring Partnership, producers also of this first ever stage version of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas.

“It took us sometime to acquire the stage rights to The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas,” he reveals. “It was a bit like turning round an oil tanker. I was keen to adapt the novel and I thought I could see a way of doing it. The fence was such a powerful theatrical idea and, in contrast to the movie which chose to show everything, I felt that we could go in the opposite direction.”

As a highly successful author, John has had no shortage of people eager to adapt his novels for another medium.

“I’ve met various people over the years in that context and I find that I want to be able to trust somebody quickly and I invariably trust my instinct. Meeting Angus felt good to me. As a writer you spend lot of time working on your own and you don’t have somebody to bounce your ideas off. It made a welcome change, therefore, to work so closely with Angus.”

“I remember that we had a very good meeting in the Café Rouge in Tottenham Court Road where we came up with all sorts of stuff,” adds Angus.

“I’ve given both boys – Bruno and Shmuel – the same birthday – which happens to be my father’s birthday,” reveals John. “I wanted to ask the question. What kind of men would they have become, if they had survived?

The subject of the holocaust and the way it is treated in the play will come under close scrutiny. Since the publication of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas in 2006 and the subsequent film version, John has had to answer a number of criticisms.

“I don’t believe that there’s ever a time when it’s wrong to talk about the holocaust,” he maintains. “People will often complain that The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is yet another book on the concentration camps, implying that the subject is closed. Then there is the argument that says that if you weren’t there, you shouldn’t be writing about it. But following that to its logical end, eventually there would be no new books on the subject and that would be a mistake.”

34 Eleanor Thorn as Gretel as Jabez Cheeseman as Bruno

How should a work of art treat such a topic as emotive and distressing as this in front of school-age children? The book is currently a school text for 11-14-year-olds and the recommended age for this theatre production is 11+.

“I think that you focus on their sense of injustice,” suggests Angus. “I don’t think that young people should be protected from what happened in Auschwitz, provided that you as the writer or the director, do not sensationalise any acts of cruelty you put on stage. You should concentrate on the story of Bruno trying to understand the new world around him.

“All Bruno or Shmuel want is somebody to play with and somebody to talk to,” continues John. “And it’s really important that the audience cares about these children and the injustice of what is happening to them.”

Given that the boys playing Bruno and Shmuel in the production may only have the vaguest notion of the background of the play, how does a director approach the delicate task of making them understand events of such enormity?

“You have got to talk them through it and you make sure that you talk to them properly,” says Angus. “I think that kids of that age are able to understand the subject and can fully discuss it. In fact, I think that kids can understand far more than they are sometimes given credit for.”

“I think that the boys themselves will be able to grasp the point that the last we see of them is when they are holding hands,” comments John. “The image symbolises the friendship between the two boys, a friendship that is stronger than the hatred around them. And that has to be a good thing. I used to say that I wrote novels for adults and novels for young people but now I prefer to think I write novels about adults and novels about young people, which is a subtle but important difference. The violence in The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas is all suggested because I didn’t want the book to turn into a horror novel. And I’d like the young people who see the production to use their imaginations and to ask questions.”

161 Jabez Cheeseman as Bruno and Colby Mulgrew as Shmuel

How would John answer those critics who argue that the events of the novel simply lack plausibility?

“There will always be people who turn around and say that this was not possible or that couldn’t have happened. But I have described the book as a fable which I define as a work of fiction with a moral at its heart.  And I’ve always felt that the truly important aspect of a book is its emotional honesty,”

“It’s very difficult for Bruno to understand what is happening and you see what he sees” explains Angus. “The play does exactly what the book does in that it asks the audience not to feel sorry for the characters. Instead it directs us to look at these events afresh and in that way our engagement with what is happening on stage in stimulated.”

John has always enjoyed a lively correspondence with his youthful readers.

“I get a lot of messages from kids, often asking me to do their homework for them,” he laughs. “I think that they are told to do a classroom exercise around the book and to write an essay on what might have happened to characters such as Pavel or Lieutenant Kotler. The children often want to know if these characters really existed.

I remember the boys who played Bruno’s Berlin friends in the film suggesting to me that I write a sequel in which they get together to get justice for Bruno. When I’ve gone to schools to discuss The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, I’ve always stressed to the students that if they have been moved by the book they should move on to non-fiction works that explore the same subject, the biographies and the memoirs. Children need to be made aware of matters of racism and of the hatred of difference. I didn’t want the novel to sound didactic but I’d like the young people in the audience to realise that these issues don’t just occur in the big world but in their inner world as well. In the play, the boys have not yet been corrupted by the world and so they supply the moral centre of the story.”

Finally,  Angus is keen to argue that there is humour in the play, despite its harrowing themes.

“We show Bruno, his parents, his elder sister as members of a normal family and there is always humour in families. It is right that Bruno and Shmuel can be funny and charming at times. My son is eight. He’s still an innocent and his innocent way of looking at the world can be quite funny. Bruno is the same.”


The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas visits The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury from Wednesday 25 – Saturday 28 March as part of a national tour, brought to us by Children’s Touring Partnership.

Cirkopolis: The Art Of Taking Risks

Words: Kelly Apter

Cirkopolis

In an era when new circus troupes are springing up on a regular basis, finding a fresh and interesting framework to hang your acts on is increasingly important.

Right from its inception in 1993, Cirque Éloize have always looked outside the circus – to theatre, dance, film, music – to add flavour to the pot.

“For me, the way to re-invent the circus was to invite people from other artforms,” says Jeannot Painchaud, co-founder of Cirque Éloize, “and that’s still what I’m doing now. To work with theatre directors or choreographers is always fun and inspiring.”

That takes care of the style, but what about the content? With 10 original productions under its belt, toured extensively to more than 400 cities, Cirque Éloize are adept at presenting its acts in new ways.

“That is the biggest challenge,” says Painchaud, “because there are now so many people who do circus and copy each other. They see an act on YouTube and want to do the same thing – they just change the music.

“So in order to try and reinvent that every time, it’s always good to start with a clear idea or story and characters that you have in mind. After that, you can look for the acts or people who fit into that idea.”

When the monotony of the nine to five gets too much, we joke about running away to join the circus. Ironically, Cirque Éloize have done the opposite with Cirkopolis, which is co-directed by Painchaud, and which comes to The Marlowe Theatre in March.

The Quebec-based company (temporarily) set aside their joyful routine of acrobatics, juggling and dance, to enter a cold, grey world where happiness is but a fleeting memory.

Each day, our hero Ashley suppresses his individuality in order to fit in, drowning in a seemingly never-ending pile of paperwork. Behind him, towering images take us inside a powerful machine that crushes his spirit to raise productivity.

Happily for him (and us) a merry band of circus artistes is waiting in the wings to remind us all what life is about. With them comes a burst of colour and exuberance that lights up the stage – and Ashley’s world.

Cirkopolis Cyr Wheel

Painchaud turned to a number of sources to find inspiration for the show. He asked the video designers to look at German expressionism, and the futuristic world of Fritz Lang’s 1927 film, Metropolis. While Painchaud himself was inspired by the 1985 Terry Gilliam film, Brazil and the writing of Franz Kafka.

“That was our starting point,” explains Painchaud, “And then it was about how you emerge from that kind of world and be yourself. To look at the beauty in your life and try as much as possible to be respectful to who you are.”

To bring Cirkopolis to life, Painchaud and the show’s co-director, Dave St Pierre assembled a talented cast of 12 circus artistes hailing from Canada, England, France, Germany, the Netherlands and the USA.

Cirque Éloize might be known as a nouveau cirque (contemporary circus) but their heart is rooted in tradition. So although during casting, they looked for performers who can dance, act and feed into the creative process, technical ability was the number one requirement.

“We see a lot of people and choose very few,” says Painchaud. “And especially now, over the past 10 years with so many people doing circus – we need to search far sometimes to find a high level of technical skill. But when we take the time to do that, there are a lot of very good people out there, and we love to find those jewels.”

To make it into the Éloize family, performers have to be multi-disciplinary, with more than one string to their bow. So, during Cirkopolis you’ll notice that an artiste is juggling one minute, spinning inside a Cyr wheel the next – or switching between hand to hand acrobatics and the Chinese pole.

All of the company members have spent years at circus school perfecting their skill – usually focussing on one speciality, but accruing others as they learn. Knowing that their colleagues are at the same professional level as them, allows the performers to quickly build up the trust required to literally put their lives in each other’s hands.

Whether they’re fearlessly soaring through the air, climbing high above the ground or wheeling across the stage whilst attempting to catch a club, the element of risk is never far away. For Painchaud, that is a crucial component of what Cirque Éloize stand for.

The European artistic sensibility that defines much of contemporary circus is important to him, but so too is the highly-skilled acrobatics the Russians and Chinese are renowned for, along with what Painchaud calls the “show business timing” seen in America.

“If you speak to older people in the circus world, they’ll tell you that if you don’t have a ring, a traditional clown or a horse then you’re not a circus,” says Painchaud. “And OK, we don’t have those three things, but we do have amazing acrobatics – things that make people go ‘wow’.

“That’s what I’ve kept from the traditional circus – and I think if you don’t at least have that, then call yourselves a theatre or dance company instead. But if you call yourself a circus, you’ve got to have something relating to what circus used to mean. And for that reason, the acrobatics are still number one when I’m casting.”


Cirque Éloize’s Cirkopolis is at The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury from Tuesday 3 – Saturday 7 March. We also offer accompanying workshops for schools.

The Paper Birds’ Broke: from gambling addictions to beans on toast

The Paper Birds Broke at The Marlowe Studio

Production photo from Broke by Richard Davenport.

Words: Dawn Kingsford

The Paper Birds will be serving up another thought-provoking feast of after-dinner conversation matter when the company return to The Marlowe Studio next week with Broke.

Personal testimonies and harrowing first-hand accounts of hardship make this piece of verbatim theatre pack a mighty political punch as it gives an unclipped voice to the debt crisis in Britain.

I spoke to Artistic Director Jemma McDonnell about The Paper Birds’ quest for ever-more inventive ways of presenting political theatre after both its productions of Blind, performed by UK beatbox champion Grace Savage, and Broke, returned rave reviews at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

With Blind you worked with Grace Savage on a solo show, but here you’re returning to your core company?

Yes – we’d heard so much about Grace Savage and wanted to use her skills in a more theatrical way. Blind leant itself so well to being a one-woman show because it was Grace’s story about growing up.

Broke will see the regular Paper Birds team back on stage, which I’m really looking forward to. I’ll be acting alongside Kylie Walsh, and Shane Durrant [the company’s composer and musician] gets an even bigger part than last time. We felt his personal experiences growing up deserved a voice in their own right.

So where did your research take you this time?

We spent weeks talking to people up and down the country; we visited food banks, Salvation Army halls and ran an online questionnaire that received 200 responses in two days. People were incredibly honest, telling us how much they earned and spent and their views on debt and the poverty trap in Britain.

I gather the banks come in for some particular stick?

The British banking and finance system was of particular interest to us and the way it works, essentially encouraging debt. The view is, as long as everyone’s spending, the economy is good. We felt very strongly that desperate people are being backed in to a corner to borrow more and more, with few perceived alternative options, and at some point this has to stop.

The play sets out to expose some of the lies surrounding poverty. What do you mean?

There is a lot of tabloid scaremongering and misconceptions about the welfare system and people abusing this. The play sets about undoing those misconceptions with the facts, which include: of the 13 million people in poverty in the UK, over half are from working families.

You willingly admit your scripts are politically charged, but was this your original driving force?

When we first formed The Paper Birds, we were a group of students studying at Bretton Hall, keen to make theatre and hone our skills. We graduated in 2003 and about three or four years later we began to realise that we were fortunate in that we had a stage on which to tell our stories but were not necessarily telling the stories we wanted. It was then that we decided to look at the issues we wanted to talk about. Making political theatre is now our driving force.

The Paper Birds Broke

Production photo by Richard Davenport.

How important to you are the issues you choose to highlight?

Kylie and I spend about a year of our lives making a show, so we have to do something we are passionate about.

Since meeting at university we’ve worked really hard to build the company and now people are starting to respond and we are very proud of that. But, it’s been a long slog, during which time we’ve experienced times when we haven’t been paid and had no rehearsal room, so, for us, the word Broke really resonates.

Even now, Kylie and I are always broke compared to our other friends. We have to really watch our money as individuals and as a company because we are funded from project to project.

So how does your life influence your political agenda?

We tend to want to discuss issues that feel relevant and current to us at the given time – at the moment we are working on a trilogy about class. Before that, it was about the binge drinking culture, with Thirsty, and, who knows, in 10 years’ time it could be about care in the community.

So what social issue will The Paper Birds focus on next and what ideas have you for it?

Our next production from the trilogy will look at social mobility. We never look closely at the content until nearer the time because we want our scripts to be as responsive to what’s happening socially and politically as possible, so watch this space!


Broke is at The Marlowe Studio on Tuesday 27 (with post-show Q&A) and Wednesday 28 January.

The production is co-commissioned by and developed at West Yorkshire Playhouse and Greenwich Theatre. Funded by Arts Council England. Supported by The Marlowe Theatre Development Trust.

2014: a year in theatre

James Dryden in Beached, the first play produced by The Marlowe. Photo by Tim Stubbings.

James Dryden in Beached, the first play produced by The Marlowe. Photo by Tim Stubbings.

Today we wish you a happy new year, full of health, happiness, and – of course – some wonderful theatre-going!

We’ve been reflecting on the last year and all the brilliant theatre we’ve seen, both here and elsewhere. Some of our staff let us know their highlights from the year.


I was able to fulfill a long-held ambition in 2014: I finally saw War Horse.

So many people I know have seen it and raved about it and as much as I wanted to get along myself, I just couldn’t/didn’t get round to booking. My lovely parents knew this and for my birthday gave me and my daughter tickets!

On the big day, I did wonder if War Horse would really live up to the hype – and my expectations. I needn’t have worried: it was above and beyond everything I expected. So  much has been written about the play over the years, and I won’t add any more here. All I will say is if you haven’t seen it, please do.

Sarah Munday, Press Officer


One of my main highlights was singing along to Say Hello, Wave Goodbye and Tainted Love performed by Marc Almond (special guest of Jools Holland).

There have been so many fantastic theatre productions. I was moved by the beauty of Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake, with the choreography, creative sets and imaginative lighting. Another highlight for me was the irresistible, eccentic Rum Tum Tugger from the musical Cats shaking his mane, and singing about being on the wrong side of every door with mewling kittens at his feet.

So many fabulous moments. I could go on!

Janette Eyres, Front Of House Assistant


Having a four-year-old daughter, most of my theatre-going in the last year has been to children’s shows.  There is some great children’s theatre being made which, when at its best, can movingly capture the wonder and woes of childhood in ways that can chime with an adult too. I am going to cheekily choose two shows that achieved this.

The National Theatre’s Elephantom was a clever and very funny story about a dream elephant invading a suburban home.  My joint highlight was Long Nose Puppet’s Arthur And His Dreamboat, which featured lovingly crafted hand-made sets and puppets, with some catchy and touching songs by Tom Gray, who is part of the band Gomez. (You can see this at The Gulbenkian on Saturday 24 January)

My Marlowe highlight was Jasmin Vardimon’s Park, a dance piece that felt completely original and new, with moments that have stayed with me long after seeing it.

John Baker, Head Of Marketing & Communications


My favourite of 2014 was probably One Man Two Guvnors. It was just hilarious and I loved the guy that played Francis. He played it so very well, you didn’t even realise his plants in the audience were just that!

If Katie [Leeann’s daughter] was answering your question, I know she’d say Peppa Pig’s Big Splash! She really loved it and I loved how much she enjoyed it too.

Leeann Frost, Finance Officer


My Marlowe highlight must be Fine Chisel’s Dumbstruck – an intricately-woven story incorporating ideas of freedom, rebellion, communication and intimacy. I was totally swept up in the narrative and constantly found myself surprised by some new clever conceit of staging or the next infectious song that the supremely talented cast broke into. Not a musical, nor a conventional play, Dumbstruck succeeded in broadening my horizons, not least of all by improving my knowledge of bioacoustics.

Elsewhere it’d be Nick Payne’s Incognito from nabokov. A piece for four actors with what must be something like 16 characters, in three interwoven narratives set in three distinct time periods, Incognito was a stunning work of narrative structure. That the framework is employed to tell a fascinating, meticulously-researched story of mental illness, shifting identity, and brain theft is what elevates the play beyond merely clever and into the realm of brilliance. I was spellbound. Masterful storytelling compellingly brought to life.

Adam Wood, Studio Manager


My Marlowe highlight was Evita – a lovely company and a great show. My other theatre highlight was Miss Saigon. I’ve been listening to it for years and it was awesome to finally see it.

Will Millar, Deputy Stage Door Keeper


I would say, easily, Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More in NYC. The best theatre experience I’ve ever had and so different to the conventional way of watching theatre. I think we’ll see more and more of the interactive theatre in the future.

A Marlowe one must be Matthew Bourne’s Lord Of The Flies and the intensity that production had. I was amazed at how quickly and well the Canterbury-based boys learnt the routine. (And if we are including gigs, Richard Navarro is a spectacle to watch).

Helene Skoge, Multimedia Designer


It’s an obvious choice but my highlight from here would have to be Beached, the first play produced by The Marlowe which also enjoyed a Soho Theatre transfer. It was a career highlight to be involved in this process but also it was just a genuinely brilliant piece of work – funny, insightful, and with an outstanding lead performance from James Dryden.

My absolute theatre highlight of 2014 has to be Paines Plough’s Lungs by Duncan Macmillan. This tiny two-hander gives you the intimate details of an everyday relationship while taking you on an unexpected, lifelong journey. It’s just so very real. You’re not thinking about how well it’s written because you’re just there, with them, and you laugh and your heart breaks and you just wish everyone could see this beautiful piece of theatre.

Amy Smith, Marketing Officer


Tweet us your highlights of 2014 to @marlowetheatre!

Aladdin: our first relaxed performance

Words: Sarah Munday

Phil Gallagher (Mister Maker) with

Phil Gallagher with local mum Jodie Mills and her children who will benefit from the Relaxed Performance.

“Forever learning and adjusting”: you have no idea how reassuring those words were!

They were written by Jenny Maddox, Head of Access and Communities at the Unicorn in London, the UK’s leading professional theatre for young audiences. The Unicorn has been holding relaxed performances for some time now and it was only natural that I should go to them, and in particular, the lovely Jenny, for advice.

Our first relaxed performance (RP) is next month (6 January), and will be for Aladdin – an obvious choice, or was it?

So many questions needed to be asked and answered before we fully committed to the RP, which came about as a natural progression to our access programme (audio-described, captioned and signed performances), and our desire to make The Marlowe a “people’s theatre” and truly accessible to all.

For those who don’t know, a RP is a specially-tailored production for customers with a range of disabilities, including those on the Autistic Spectrum.

Several adjustments are made: loud bangs, pyrotechnics, smoke and flashing lights are removed from the show, the house lights are left dimmed and not turned off, and a chill-out space is there for all to use.

Theatres like the Unicorn, Polka Theatre (another children’s venue in London) and West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, have been providing RPs for years.

In 2011 an Autism and Theatre Conference was held, followed in 2012 by the Relaxed Performance Project, a partnership between The Prince’s Foundation for Children and the Arts, The Society of London Theatre, and Theatrical Management Association.

The project was collaborative and brought together theatre staff and volunteers from a wide range of backgrounds, experiences and interests in the participant theatres, and partners such as national and local charities.

From November 2012 to June 2013, the project engaged with a total of 4,983 audience members at eight theatres across the UK with an average audience of 622. The total audience comprised 42% families living with autism, 33% community groups (eg autism specific community organisations; SEN schools), and 25% others (eg individuals and families).

Interviewed during and/or surveyed after an RP, 60% reported they had never been to the theatre before as a family, 30% had never been to the theatre, and 90% had never been to an RP.

The project developed a model of best practice for dissemination at both a national and international level, in order to share its learning outcomes with audience members and theatres across the UK and beyond. Importantly, it provided a new example of how theatres – and their programmes – might impact upon those critical social issues of access, inclusion, tolerance and understanding.

And so we started to think about an RP at The Marlowe Theatre: there wasn’t a “eureka moment”, just a “dipping in and out of” the idea period until the time was right to say “let’s go for it!”.

Of course, we realised it would take some planning and so programmed it for more than a year in advance.

As The Marlowe’s unofficial access “guardian”, I was charged with doing the homework: , it has been challenging, interesting and I’m sure, ultimately rewarding.

As those who know me will verify, I’m no good with manuals. I don’t have the time or patience for them and my ethos is to simply switch things on, fiddle around a bit, and hope they work (which inevitably, they don’t).

How I have longed though for an RP manual: a document detailing how to run an RP, from A to Z!

But, I’ve learnt that as RPs become more common place (you may see them referred to as autism-friendly performances), everyone is learning as they go along. Hence the words from Jenny at the Unicorn: “forever learning and adjusting”.

Along with two colleagues, I experienced an RP at the theatre (1001 Nights, by the rather wonderful – and now Kent-based – Transport theatre company). Jenny emailed me afterwards to say that on reflection, they didn’t quite get the lighting right but they would know better for next time.

I have asked questions of many people (and probably made a pest of myself in some quarters) and I am grateful to everyone for their help. I have gradually pieced together the jigsaw that will be our first RP, and while there has been much more to do – and learn – the warm reaction from the people who will benefit from the RP has filled me with confidence. I am sure the show will be one to remember – and not just for those in the audience.

Thanks (in advance) to the cast of Aladdin, and our Front of House and technical teams for the part they have played/will play. And special thanks to Heather Wildsmith, Cultural Development Manager at the National Autistic Society. Her recent visit to us was absolutely invaluable and inspirational – and has filled me with confidence and excitement.

Jodie Mills, of Canterbury, is someone else who has been invaluable in her support and guidance. She is mum to six-year-old Stanley, and Thomas, who is five and who is autistic.

Jodie is passionate about giving Thomas the same access and opportunities as Stanley and other children: “Some people are lucky enough to get that enjoyment from standard performances, but all of us are different and to have other needs considered, such as sensory and social skills, makes the difference between having that opportunity and sadly not.”

Aladdin will be Jodie and Thomas’s first Relaxed Performance and she believes they will both benefit from it: “It will be a positive experience for me – I’ll be supported just by the simplicity of it being focused around the potential and varying needs of my child.

“I’m hoping for a much more relaxed Thomas, less pressure on him to conform is just one way he’ll be able to cope with his anxieties and other issues. Thomas will get the chance to enjoy something he wouldn’t ordinarily be able to even try.”

We’ll also be taking our experiences and learning into our next Relaxed Performance for Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs on Tuesday 5 January 2016.

So come along, enjoy, and do let us know what you think!


Aladdin is at The Marlowe Theatre until Sunday 11 January. Tickets for the Relaxed Performance (Tuesday 6 January) are available by calling 01227 787787.

A Shrek chronology

Photo by Helen Maybanks.

Photo by Helen Maybanks.

In 2001, a big, ugly, lovable green ogre called Shrek burst onto our screens and an instant classic was born.

We were intrigued to find out where this off-beat fairytale came from, and how it made its way to the West End, Broadway, and soon to be Canterbury in 2015!


14 November 1907
American cartoonist, sculptor and latterly children’s author William Steig is born in Brooklyn, New York, to Polish-Jewish immigrants from Austria. His father, Joseph, was a house painter and his mother, Laura, was a seamstress.

1923
Steig graduates from Townsend Harris High School at the age of 15, but doesn’t complete any of the three colleges that he attends, admitting that he had “a defective education”.

1930
Steig sells his first cartoon to The New Yorker, having started to draw when his family suffered from financial problems during the Great Depression. The cartoon has a prison inmate telling another, “My son’s incorrigible, I can’t do a thing with him!”

1944
A book of Steig’s cartoons, entitled Small Fry is published. The New York Times says: “What they prove to the parents and elders is that 8-year-olds do not change from one generation to another, that the world of childhood is compounded of miniature terrors and glorious daydreams, and that Mr. Steig – not to put too fine a point upon it – is wonderful.”

William Steig hard at work in 1973. Image via New York Social Diary.

William Steig hard at work in 1973. Image via New York Social Diary.

1968
William Steig publishes his first children’s book, entitled CDB!, which uses letters to represent words (hence, CDB! becomes “See the Bee”). This is followed by Roland The Minstrel Pig, beginning a career of books that are peopled with animals.

1990
Shrek!, about a young ogre who finds the ogre of his dreams when he leaves home, is published for the first time, written and illustrated by William Steig. The name of the central character is derived from the German/Yiddish word ‘schreck’, meaning ‘fear, terror’.

The beginnings of Shrek.

The beginnings of Shrek.

2001
The animated film of Shrek is released by DreamWorks Animation, starring the voices of Mike Myers, Eddie Murphy and Cameron Diaz. The film will go on to become an international success, closing in the cinema to a worldwide gross of nearly $500M.

2001 Shrek wins an Oscar®, in the new Academy Award category of ‘Best Animated Feature’.

Shrek film
2003
William Steig dies at the age of 95, in Boston, USA. His prolific output has generated more than 25 children’s books, even though he only started writing them in his sixties!

On one occasion he said: “I think I feel a little differently than other people do. For some reason I’ve never felt grown up”, which perhaps helps to explain his interest in this area of publishing. Steig’s passing is noted on the end credits of Shrek 2, with ‘In Memory of William Steig, 1907-2003’.

2004
Shrek 2, is released, followed by Shrek The Third (2007) and Shrek Forever After (2010). Several other shorter Shrek projects are completed, including Shrek 4-D (2004), a ride at Universal Studios and Shrek The Halls (2007), a Christmas special. Shrek is one of the highest grossing film series of all time.

14 December 2008
Shrek The Musical opens at the Broadway Theatre in New York City, starring Brian d’Arcy James as Shrek and Sutton Foster as Princess Fiona. The show is described as ‘true happiness’ by the New York Times and ‘enormous fun’ by the Wall Street Journal.

Shrek at the Broadway Theatre, New York.

Shrek, “Bringing Ugly Back” at the Broadway Theatre, New York.

2010
The North American tour of the musical launches in Chicago starting a 60 city, two-year tour of the US.

14 June 2011

Shrek The Musical has its UK premiere at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, starring Nigel Lindsay as Shrek, Richard Blackwood as Donkey, Nigel Harman as Lord Farquaad and Amanda Holden as Princess Fiona.

Shrek Tour Rehearsals 32, Gerard Carey (Lord Farquaad), Photo Credit - Helen Maybanks

Shrek tour rehearsals begin. Photo by Helen Maybanks.

July 2014
Shrek The Musical hits the road on its first ever tour of UK & Ireland, directed by Nigel Harman.

Feb 2015
The tour arrives with us in Canterbury!

Photo by Helen Maybanks.

Photo by Helen Maybanks.


Shrek The Musical is with us from Wednesday 11 February – Sunday 1 March.

Your theatrical Christmas gift guide

Christmas at The Marlowe Theatre Canterbury. Photo by Adam Wood.

So it’s just 14 days until Christmas! Yes, really. That means it’s absolutely no-way-round-it time to get your Christmas gifts sorted.

If you can’t quite brave town or find yourself running out of time, here are a few gift ideas for the theatre-lover in your life to take the drama out of Christmas shopping… (see what we did there!)

Marlowe Theatre Gift Vouchers

A guaranteed night out at the theatre is such a nice treat. You can buy our vouchers for any amount by calling 01227 787787.

Marlowe Theatre Tickets

Again, knowing you have a night out in store would be a lovely gift. For families and musical lovers we have Shrek The Musical here in February, little ones will love Room On The Broom and Sing-A-Long-A Frozen, or maybe it’s a comedy or music fan you’re buying for. You can browse our full listings here – there really is something for everyone.

National Theatre 50th Anniversary DVD

Anyone who caught the live gala performance on television will know what a special night this was, with stars from across the eras performing excerpts from the best National plays. The DVD also includes the two-part Arena documentary on the history of the National Theatre.

£24.99, National Theatre

The Half: Photographs Of Actors Preparing For The Stage

This gorgeous book gives a glimpse into the backstage world, specifically – moments with actors during the half hour before curtain up. There are so many familiar, much-loved faces in this collection and it feels really special to see them at this usually private time.

£17, Amazon

Digital Theatre Gift Certificates

Digital Theatre now have an overwhelmingly impressive online archive of productions, each available to rent or buy. A gift certificate would give someone access to productions such as Much Ado About Nothing starring Catherine Tate and David Tennant, All My Sons starring Zoe Wanamaker and David Suchet, Frantic Assembly’s Lovesong, and many more.

Any amount up to £100

Talking Theatre: Interviews With Theatre People

Richard Eyre gives unrivalled access to some of the biggest names in theatre in this book of interviews with the likes of Arthur Miller, Vanessa Redgrave, Alan Bennett and more.

£7.99, Nick Hern

West End Producer’s book

The mischievous and anonymous producer is infamous on Twitter for his witty remarks and “guidance”. In this debut book, Everything You Always Wanted To Know About Acting (But Were Afraid To Ask, Dear), he shares his wisdom and insider gossip in trademark comedic fashion.

£8.79, Nick Hern Books