Pilot Theatre premiere Zoe Cooper's new adaptation of David Almond's award-winning book A Song for Ella Grey
A Song for Ella Grey
Newcastle Northern Stage
Thursday 1- Thursday 15 February 2024
A new adaptation of David Almond’s award-winning novel for young adults, A Song for Ella Grey will premiere at Northern Stage in February 2024 before a national tour. Produced by Pilot Theatre, in association with Northern Stage and York Theatre Royal, Zoe Cooper’s adaptation is a contemporary retelling of the Orpheus myth set in the North East, directed by Esther Richardson.
|A Song for Ella Grey cast - Photo: Esther Richardson
From the company behind the stage adaptation of Malorie Blackman’s Noughts & Crosses, Pilot Theatre specialise in making shows for young audiences. Artistic Director Esther Richardson says it’s important this new production reflects young peoples’ experience of the world today. “A myth is a story that's always being rewritten - we're always coming back to the Orpheus myth. We're living through an extraordinary period of change and loss, and young people are trying to make sense of what the future will be, so it’s the perfect time to tell this beautiful, epic story. Theatre is a space where we can help people to feel those feelings and make sense of them; the young people in the story retell the myth in their own way in order to let it go and help them come to terms with their grief.
|Cast members l-r Jonathan Iceton Grace Long Olivia Onyehara & Beth Crame
at The Cluny in Newcastle - Photo: Mark Savage
Following an open casting call for young actors from the North East and Cumbria, the cast of five are: celebrated Tik Tok performer Grace Long (Breeders, Sky/FX, which Grace is also on the writing team of, and Three Days Millionaire, Shush Films) as Ella Grey, Olivia Onyehara (All’s Well That Ends Well/Richard III, Royal Shakespeare Company and The 39 Steps, Stephen Joseph Theatre) as Claire, Beth Crame (The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Northern Stage and Lasagna, Open Clasp) as Angeline; Jonathan Iceton (Down the Lines, The Customs House) as Jay; and Amonik Melaco (Singin’ In The Rain, Sadlers Wells and Heathers The Musical, The Other Place) as Sam.
|A Song for Ella Grey cast & creatives at The Cluny - Photo: Mark Savage
North East author David Almond is one of the most prolific and highly acclaimed writers of novels for children and young adults. His novels have included Skellig, Kit’s Wilderness, My Name is Mina, The Tightrope Walkers, The Savage, A Song for Ella Grey, Half a Creature from the Sea, The Colour of the Sun and many more novels, stories, picture books, plays, songs and opera libretti. His work has been translated into over forty languages and has won a string of major awards around the world. In 2022 he was awarded an OBE for services to literature. He says, “A Song for Ella Grey is so close to my heart. It’s my version of the great Orpheus myth, which has been told many times in many forms and will be told forever more. This version takes place in ordinary north eastern streets, on wild north eastern beaches, among ordinary northeastern teenagers. I’m so thrilled that Pilot Theatre and Zoe Cooper are bringing the tale to the stage.”
Zoe Cooper’s recent plays include Out of Water (Orange Tree Theatre/RSC) which was a finalist for the 2020 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize and shortlisted for the Evening Standard Most Promising Playwright Award, and Jess and Joe Forever (Orange Tree Theatre/UK tour) which won the Most Promising Playwright Award at the Off West End Awards 2017. Her new adaptation of Northanger Abbey will be co-produced by the Orange Tree, Theatre by the Lake, Stephen Joseph Theatre and Bolton Octagon in January 2024 and she has just been longlisted for the 2023 Women’s Prize for Playwriting for her play, Cambium Layer. She says, “Pilot Theatre produces wonderfully fresh, provocative, and precise productions for young people and adults alike. Ever since I first read A Song for Ella Grey, I have thought it would make a wonderful stage play. Full of north-east wilderness, infused with the darkness and magic of Greek mythology and possessing all the humanity of all of David Almond’s work, it is something very special. The opportunity to work on this production of this book and to open it at Northern Stage in the city I call home is incredibly exciting!”
|l-r Director Esther Richardson Author David Almond &
Playwright Zoe Cooper Photo: Mark Savage
A Song for Ella Grey is a tale of modern friends and ancient forces, a tale told since the dawn of time and told again today. Claire and her best friend, Ella Grey, are ordinary kids from ordinary families in an ordinary world. They and their friends fall in and out of love, play music and dance, stare at the stars, yearn for excitement, hang out at the Cluny and have parties on the beautiful beaches of Northumberland. One day a stranger, a musician called Orpheus, appears on the beach, and entrances them all, but particularly Ella. It is a meeting that will change all their lives forever.
Natalie Ibu, Artistic Director and Joint Chief Executive, Northern Stage said, "A Song for Ella Grey celebrates the spectacular geography of the North East but captivates readers of all ages with a universal story. David Almond’s writing captures the vibrancy, joy, and intensity of first loves and the power of friendship while also beautifully and honestly dealing with grief and surviving tragedy.
Zoe Cooper’s adaptation lifts the characters off the page with such grace and energy and it is our privilege to be working with Pilot Theatre to make and launch this production for a new generation of young people across the country."
Director Esther Richardson adds, “ I grew up in the North East in Redcar and Durham so I’m excited to bring the region’s landscape and landmarks to life on stage with an incredible northern cast and creative team.”
A Song for Ella Grey will open at Northern Stage, Newcastle (1-15 February) then tour to York Theatre Royal (20-24 February), Theatre Peckham (27 February-2 March), Hull Truck Theatre (5-9 March) Liverpool Playhouse (13-16 March) and Yvonne Arnaud Guildford (19-23 March).