Animal feelings are front and centre in this new adaptation of David Baddiel’s children’s book, AniMalcolm.
He’s no stranger to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, having ventured there for the first time in 1982. And, over the years, David Baddiel has pulled in the crowds alongside famous comedy partners including Rob Newman and Frank Skinner.
This year, however, he’ll be attracting audiences without even setting foot in the city. Adapted and performed by award-winning children’s theatre company, Story Pocket, AniMalcolm is the tale of a young boy whose dislike of animals is called into question when he turns into a whole series of them during a school trip to a farm.
Based on Baddiel’s 2016 children’s book, the show will feature new songs, energetic staging and puppetry. What it won’t do is radically alter Baddiel’s original story.
“It’s very faithful to the book,” says Baddiel. “Which I think is probably for the best, because young audiences don’t want lots of mucking about with what they know – they want to see what they’ve read on the stage.”
Thankfully, Adam Fletcher-Forde who adapted the story is in agreement. “An awful lot of what happens has been transferred straight to the stage,” says Fletcher-Forde. “David’s biggest concern was whether the show would be funny, and I told him the dialogue will stay the same, because I’m not going to try to be funnier than you are.
“The words are already there, so our job has been to keep it vibrant and pacey, and use lots of stylised movement to transform Malcolm into a tortoise, cat, sheep or whatever it is he’s becoming next.”
One of five children’s books Baddiel has written for the 9-12 year old market, AniMalcolm captures what the comedian feels is a fundamental childhood passion – animals. Only in Malcolm’s case, it isn’t.
“Every time I write a kids book I try to tap into some kind of primal interest in children,” explains Baddiel, “and I think animals are one of them. But rather than make the book about a child who’s obsessed with animals, I thought I’d do the opposite – because you want to take your hero and your readers on a journey.
“So I decided to make it about a boy who doesn’t like animals – he doesn’t hate them, he just doesn’t get why his family wants to hang out with creatures who can’t talk.”
Much like Malcolm, whose family is obsessed with animals, Baddiel lives with four cats and a guinea pig, claiming he’s “not entirely happy unless there’s an animal in the house.” He also shares his home with his wife, comedy actor and writer Morwenna Banks, and their two children Dolly and Ezra. Have they been useful sounding boards over the years?
“Yes, I show them bits of the book and try things out on them,” says Baddiel, “and if they’re enjoying the story, that’s good. Also, all my kids books are all set in the same school, so I’ll ask Dolly and Ezra what their school is like – they’re very useful for that.”
WHERE & WHEN
David Baddiel’s AniMalcolm, Gilded Balloon Teviot, 1-19 August (not 13), 11.30am, from £10