The Boy and The Spy, first world premiere was on the 7th of March 2018, here in our very own school; Campus De Nations. The play was put on by the talented Year 11 drama class. Having never read the book before, I went to the play with an open mind, a lot of enthusiasm and high hopes. Luckily, I was not disappointed!
A quick summary of the play, as printed in the brochure that was handed out:
Life has never been easy for twelve-year-old Antonio, but since the war began there are German soldiers on every corner, fearsome gangsters and the fascist police everywhere, and no one ever has enough to eat.
But when Antonio decides to trust a man who has literally fallen from the sky, he leaps into an adventure that will change his life forever.
The cast was terrific. However, it wasn't just the acting of Darryl Abraham, who played Antonio, the main male lead but also the way the Tech Crew managed to transport the audience from our boring Aula to 1940 Sicily. William Coates, as always was on lighting design and lights but the first addition of animated background, I have ever seen in a school production, managed to give the play a little extra spice that kept the audience amazed and in wonder. This was all thanks to the animations team of Jason Kutzin, Limbuyoti Mwangala, Steven Dessi and Andrew Close.
Left is Aabis Naqvi who played Chris
Darryl Abraham who played Antonio
The reason for my entire interest in the play, however, came from Dr Close who adapted The Boy and The Spy, which was initially a book, for the stage, along with the help of Felice Arena, the author of the book. So, I decided to sit down with our very own Dr Close, to further understand why and how he managed to adapt The Boy and The Spy.
How do you believe that it turned out?
I think it was generally successful, and it reflected the ideas in the book. When you put things on stage, things change, but I think we all managed to keep the central morals of the story. I think if we could do it again, I would find a way to have less set changes.
Was this the first time you've written a play?
Yes. I had been thinking of doing a project with Felice for a while now and initially we discussed writing a musical and then a straight play we would invent together. Finally, I read his latest novel, The Boy and the Spy, and I said to Felice that we should turn it into a play, something he hadn't thought about. It was an exciting process as we learnt: (A) how each other works but (B) a book is not the same as a play!
How was working with Felice?
It was fascinating as you discover that the way you read a book isn't the same as someone else. The interpretation of scenes can vary. Additionally, it's not just about writing; it's about establishing why we have certain scenes and how we can develop each character.
What was the initial process of adaptation?
We took a draft of the original book and pulled out the dialogue into a script, which caused there to be around 37 scenes in total (which later became 25). This caused a lot of debate over what dialogue to keep . For example, Chris, one of the male leads speaks quite a lot as he tells a lot of stories - and we cut these by about 2/3rd by the end.
How was casting the actual characters?
It was interesting as we started by reading the script as a class and tried out different ideas, like having people read parts randomly. We also improvised various tasks such as “develop something you can do in Italy 1940 and keep repeating it”. Since Felice had flown over during this period, we managed to draft up a cast list between the two of us, and of course, we asked the students to indicate the parts they would like to play.
How was it teaching the pronunciation of the words since the play included a little Italian?
We had a secret weapon with Alessandro Bardini (who played Morelli, a German soldier & Franco, Antonio's uncle) and so he would understandably react when people pronounced words wrong - and that was part of his job, to ensure that the words were spoken correctly.
How and What was the process of bringing the play to life?
I don't know if this is the method you should use all the time, but for me, it was about identifying the crucial moments. For example, the football scene, Mamma Nina in her bed and the car driving through the night. It was a matter of workshopping those scenes, so we were pleased about those, and the rest of it seemed to fall into place. It was also partly dictated by the idea of using animations, to prevent a constant change of sets on the stage.
We decided early on, around August, that Antonio sees the world through his sketchbook and because his relationship with the world is through his sketches the animations would become a constant theme throughout the play.
Animation done by Jason Kutzin
The play is almost like a drama teacher's guide to theatre. We hope that what could happen in future is that if it's a small school we will have provided all the materials, and if it's a large school, that might want to use their orchestra - so I wrote the music to be able to be played by a good school orchestra. Also, for certain scenes, there are a range of different drama teaching techniques, for example, the boat scene, where we used shadow theatre, and the use of marionettes to tell a “story-within-a-story”.
It's no wonder that the play was an outstanding success as there was dedication and enjoyment from not only the playwrights; Dr Andrew Close and Felice Arena but the entire cast, including Mr Smith, who made one of the most hysterical appearances. It's also great to know that this is possibly just the first of the plays that Dr Close shall be writing and bringing onto the stage.
Right – Dylan Bucagu, playing Signor Golosi & Centre – Mr. Smith, playing a sweet-tooth German soldier