TALKING TO DAVID BADDIEL
This March, the award-winning Story Pocket Theatre brings their fun-filled musical adaptation of David Baddiel’s bestselling children’s book ANiMALCOLM to G Live in Guildford. We caught up with the popular comic come children’s author to discuss the show, growing up and his affection for cats.
THE STORY POCKET THEATRE COMPANY ARE TAKING YOUR BOOK ANIMALCOLM ON TOUR – WHAT CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE SHOW?
It’s about a boy who doesn’t really understand animals, doesn’t get animals, doesn’t understand why people have pets – but his parents have loads of pets and are always trying to convince him to love animals.
To cut a long story short a magical thing happens to him where he ends up becoming a different series of animals. It’s a fable about a boy who doesn’t understand why people like animals, but gets to understand it via that journey with lots of jokes and stuff along the way.
This company approached my literary agent saying they wanted to do a musical of it and I actually thought “yeah you’re right – it’s a good idea for a kid’s musical, but I didn’t know much about Story Pocket – they just seemed like a nice bunch of people and they had done some good work before.
One morning before they were about to start doing it, I went to a dress rehearsal at a church somewhere in London. I’ll be honest with you I probably wasn’t expecting that much. I thought this will be quite sweet and charming, but that’s about it.
I thought it was really brilliant. I was really blown away by it, I mean I underestimated them completely. They’re a really good theatre company and they’ve made it into a proper musical with really brilliant songs, brilliant staging and they’ve done a really great script version of my book. It was funny, it was charming, it was moving… all sorts of things. I was really impressed with it.
They did a small tour last year and did Edinburgh. It went so well that they’re doing it again.
WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION FOR ANIMALCOLM?
All my children’s book are always play-outs on what I believe to be some deep-seated fantasies that children have; whether that be being able to swap your parents for other parents or about having a magic video game controller. In this one, it’s a fantasy about being able to be an animal for a short amount of time.
But I decided to turn it on its head with that book and make it about a kid who doesn’t like animals. I think that took in another part of my own childhood. I’ve just done a Radio 3 documentary which is called My Trouble with Classical Music, which is about how when I was a kid my parents really wanted me to like classical music. I learned classical piano and went along to a lot of classical concerts and all that. I think at the time I thought “yes, I like this” and then when I was about 14 I thought, “no I hate it, what am I doing? It’s so boring”.
Actually, now that I’m 54 I’m quite keen to like classical music and that’s what this documentary is about, but, at the time it was clear to me that my parents were imposing something on me. I think I transferred a bit of that to AniMalcolm. Malcolm is a child that just doesn’t get it. A bit of the comedy of it, certainly, is about kids recognising what it’s like when your parents want you to like something and you just think, “This isn’t for me”.
WHAT WAS YOUR RELATIONSHIP WITH ANIMALS LIKE GROWING UP? DO YOU HAVE PETS?
I absolutely love animals. When I say animals, what I mean is cats. When I was really young we had a dog and we’ve had the odd guinea pig, but really, the constant in my life has been cats. I even had cats when I was at university – I took in street cats and we’d have them in the halls of residence. I don’t really feel at home anywhere unless there’s a cat there.
I do think that even though I still eat meat, although I’m starting to think about not eating meat, I do think that our relationship to animals is a really weird one – this notion that we’re top of the food chain and we can just kill animals for our pleasure. I think that that is gradually changing.
One of the things that I think is changing it, apart from young people being generally vegan, is these short films on YouTube and Twitter of animals behaving like humans and it’s become clearer and clearer to me from watching those films, that animals are essentially just like us.
We’ve sort of lied to ourselves about our specialness for centuries and I wonder if what will finally change our attitude about that, are these little films. Anyway, either way, AniMalcolm is a story in that vein, in that it very much tries to suggest that animals are just like us.
WHAT ADVICE CAN YOU GIVE TO ANY BUDDING YOUNG AUTHORS?
I think the best thing is to read. I think it’s quite hard for kids now to really get into reading or indeed writing because there’s so much else to distract them. I mean I find it quite hard to write a children’s book when I’ve got Twitter baying at me the whole time.
If you’ve got ideas for stories, which I think all children maybe have, then if you want to write them – then write them. You don’t necessarily have to write them in book form; you can draw them or do them in whatever way want, but I think storytelling is a really good thing to get into if you’ve got an imagination – which I think all children have.