This week, one of the company’s highest profile productions of recent times has headed out on it’s fourth tour to date. Farm Boy, adapted and directed by our former Artistic Director Daniel Buckroyd will play at 60 venues across the UK over the next six months. It’s a huge tour, infact probably the biggest single tour in my time with the company.
It’s also the culmination of an amazing journey for our replica Fordson Tractor that is as much a character in the piece as the two actors are and I thought I’d take a look back at the journey that this production has been on.
At the beginning of 2009, the year in which the show first took to the stage, Farm Boy wasn’t even a part of our plans for the coming year. Daniel and I were focussing on an autumn revival of another New Perspectives production; The Farm that we’d toured in 2008 across the East Midlands. For a variety of reasons the ambition for that piece was never realised and we were left with a gap in our schedule.
Daniel came up with the idea of adapting the story of Farm Boy and developing it for a small tour to schools in the East Midlands; that was the original limit of our ambition, a four week tour to twenty or so schools in the region that sold out almost immediately and took place in October 2009.
And that might have been that… had we not bumped into James Haddrell from Greenwich Theatre at the Pulse Festival in June 2009. We’d taken two productions to Greenwich Theatre previously – The Hired Man, and Sir Gawain And The Green Knight – and we started chatting about upcoming tours. He was intrigued by the idea of Farm Boy and asked if we wanted to try it out in a theatre space over the half term period. Why not? We thought. It had already entered our minds that there might be more life for the piece. Michael Morpurgo’s work was (and remains) hugely popular, War Horse (to which the book of Farm Boy is the sequel) was already playing to packed West End audiences and we thought that our production could easily sit in small to mid-scale theatres.
So we went to Greenwich for three performances. The theatre arranged for Michael to come and talk after the last performance and he was lovely about the show. We also invited a number of colleagues to see performances in Greenwich to get a sense of whether it was something they’d book for their venue – the reaction from the majority being a resounding Yes!
Most importantly I think, was that we invited Scamp Theatre to see it with a view to working with us on a theatre tour partly because they had already had success touring another of Michael’s works Private Peaceful and also they had better contacts with the type of venues we were seeking to reach.
And from that moment we haven’t really looked back. Co-producing with Scamp, we planned for a summer run at the 2010 Edinburgh Festival Fringe followed by an eight week autumn theatre tour.
In the wonderful Assembly Rooms in Edinburgh we played to consistently packed houses selling 98% of available seats and earning the official festival ‘sold out’ laurels. Crucially we received a great range of national press reviews – most of them 4* – that helped with sales on the subsequent tour. Over 9000 people saw the show on that tour meaning that in 2010 alone more than 12,000 people had seen Farm Boy – more than had seen our whole programme of work the previous year.
And it didn’t stop there. In Edinburgh the show was seen by Peter Tear from 59e59 Theatre in New York and by June 2011 an agreement had been reached to take our tractor across the pond to the Brits Off Broadway Festival – Christmas in New York City!
Our audiences in New York were very different from what we’d been used to touring the UK, with a lot more adults seeing the play rather than the family and schools audiences that the 2010 tour attracted. But again the feedback was largely positive (even if some of the critics tried to make too close a comparison to War Horse).
And so on to 2012 and another co-production with Scamp that will deliver over 100 performances by March 2013. John Walters, who has played Grandpa since that first performance in 2009 and Gareth Bennett-Ryan who follows in the footsteps of Matt Powell and Richard Pryal in playing Grandson, will tell this wonderful story in venues from Berwick to Bridport, Colchester to Cardigan.
It’s an incredible journey considering this was a production that started out by ‘filling a gap’, but that has gone on to achieve so much for New Perspectives. We’re really excited about the next few months and we hope our audiences will be as well.
Catch it if you can!
Chris Kirkwood, Executive Director