INTERVIEW: Zoe Cooper | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Image: The cast of A Song for Ella Grey L-R Grace Long, Jonathan Iceton, Olivia Onyehara, Amonik Melaco, Beth Crame. Image by Olivia Brabbs

Zoe Cooper’s stage adaptation of David Almond’s award-winning novel A Song For Ella Grey opens at Northern Stage in Newcastle this month before embarking on a national tour. 

Based on the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, David Almond’s novel brings the tragic love story into a contemporary and familiar North East setting. The show’s acclaimed playwright Zoe Cooper explains what originally drew her to Almond’s novel, and the motivations behind adapting it for the stage. “There is an amazing Queer love story at the centre, which is wonderful to see so unapologetically in a book. There is also something about the scale of emotional expression in Greek drama, huge and epic, that perfectly suited the feelings that you have when you’re 17 or 18. The way the story uniquely inhabits the rugged beauty of the North East landscape feels equally monumental.”
The show is produced by Pilot Theatre, who recently adapted Malorie Blackman’s Noughts & Crosses for the stage. “What’s exciting about Pilot Theatre is that they really understand a young audience,” Zoe enthuses. Whilst the original novel is primarily intended for a young adult audience, the show is likely to appeal to all ages. “The characters are 17 or 18, right on the cusp of that moment when you go off to properly experience life and everything changes. There’s something about that moment of inflection that is really important to people of all ages – those living it and those who want to look back on that time in their own lives.”

It feels renewing as a writer to have permission to enter those worlds

Across previous projects, Zoe’s playwriting has acquired considerable praise. She explains what has been especially enjoyable about working on A Song For Ella Grey. “I don’t normally do adaptations, I normally write my own work, so it’s exciting to enter the landscape of somebody else’s brilliant piece of writing. There are things in the novel that I would never have written that are exciting to grapple with. It feels renewing as a writer to have permission to enter those worlds – which I imagine is what David experienced when he found Orpheus and Eurydice.”

A Song For Ella Grey is a real collaboration of high-quality Northern talent. From the original North East-based novel, to the creative team and cast behind the upcoming production. “We did a long open-call audition process which has allowed us to put together a really fantastic North East-heavy cast – not a load of people from London, putting on accents. It has been so brilliant to be reminded of the level of talent in the North East.”

The show’s premiere at Northern Stage is a fantastic opportunity to catch this universal story, with a North East setting, on home ground. Recognising the importance of seeing Northern stories on Northern stages, Zoe says: “I’m based in Heaton and teach at Newcastle University and I think that to tell stories about places that range beyond London is really important. It’s equally crucial that those stories are told by people that live in or are from the North East. I want to see the worlds I inhabit on stage and I think that’s even more true for young people. It’s so important to see our own worlds depicted.”

A Song For Ella Grey is at Northern Stage, Newcastle from Thursday 1st-Thursday 15th February.

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