Neil Gaiman’s Coraline to become ‘dark, spangly’ stage musical

neil gaiman’s coraline to become ‘dark, spangly’ stage musical

‘Working out how to be brave’ … the animated film version of Coraline. Photograph: Courtesy of Focus

Neil Gaiman’s award-winning novella Coraline is to be turned into a musical that will tour the UK in 2025. The children’s fable, which found a new audience 15 years ago as a stop-motion animation by Henry Selick, has been adapted by playwright Zinnie Harris and composer Louis Barabbas.

Harris fell in love with Gaiman’s dark fantasy when reading it to her children and quickly saw its potential for the stage. Over a 12-year period, she has developed the script with James Brining, artistic director of Leeds Playhouse. They recruited Barabbas, the Skye-based frontman of the Bedlam Six, to write songs that Harris described as “dark, spangly, clever, quirky and beautifully melodic”.

Published in 2002, Coraline is a creepy fairytale about an 11-year-old girl who discovers a portal in the wall of her new flat. On the far side is her other mother and other father, parents almost identical to her own, but with buttons for eyes and evil intent. “The movie is one refraction of the novel and this will be another refraction,” said Brining. “We want to respond to the story, the spirit and the atmosphere of the novel.”

Harris, whose play Macbeth (An Undoing) is in the running for four Drama Desk awards in New York next month, said the “inventive brilliance” of Gaiman lay in his combination of scariness and redemption. “It is such a dark idea that you might encounter someone that has taken the form of your parents,” she said. “But it is also an adventure story. Our aim is not to terrify audiences full of children but to take them with us on a story of this girl combatting what scares her.”

Five years ago, the Guardian included Coraline among the 100 best books of the 21st century. It won the 2003 Hugo award for best novella and was described by Philip Pullman as “marvellously strange and scary”. It has previously been adapted as an opera and an off-Broadway musical.

Directed by Brining, the musical is aimed at family audiences and will play in Leeds, Edinburgh, Birmingham and Manchester from April 2025. There will be a child actor in the lead role, their vulnerability emphasised by a cast otherwise made up of adults.

Harris added: “At its core, the story is about working out how to be brave. It is a powerful message. We see this little girl having to take on an extraordinary adversary, who is psychologically as well as physically intimidating and she has to dig deep into her core to find a way through.”

Brining, whose production of My Fair Lady opens at Leeds Playhouse this month, said they had been drawn to the gothic side of the novel: “That is partly why we felt it would be most successful with music. When the other mother turns around and she’s got buttons for eyes, there will be a heightened quality because she is singing.”

He said this is what prompted them to collaborate with Barabbas: “His music has got a gothic quality. It’s got creepiness and wit, he can write lyrics that hold rich imagery and themes that respond to the novel. The gothic is a key characteristic of Gaiman’s work and the music will help define that atmosphere on stage.”

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