A classic novel, a new play and a graveyard walk: it’s all in a day’s work for North East writer Michael Chaplin, as Tamzin Lewis discovers.
IF you were minded this week, you could catch Michael Chaplin's new play The Song Thief at the theatre, and be back home in time to listen to a radio adaptation of his dad’s book, The Day of the Sardine.
It’s a wonderful coincidence, and BBC Radio 4 deserves a little credit here. The Song Thief was originally written as a play for Radio 4 and is now receiving its stage premiere at the People’s Theatre in Newcastle.
Meanwhile, The Day of the Sardine, written by former miner Sid Chaplin 50 years ago, has been selected as this week’s A Book at Bedtime on the same station.
The Song Thief is a romantic drama set in Edwardian times and follows the tale of a young composer from London who arrives in Allendale. He is in search of folk inspiration when he hears of a hauntingly beautiful love song which was sung just once by a shepherd.
Like his father before him, Michael is president of the People’s Theatre. He says: “It’s been a real pleasure to be president, and partly a small gesture of thanks for the start the People’s gave me in the drama business when I was a member of their youth theatre in the late ’60s.
“It is a nice piece of serendipity that the play is on the same week as the radio adaptation of The Day of the Sardine, and it makes for a busy week!”
Michael was inspired to write the “play with music” by his interest in late 19th and early 20th-century English composers who collected indigenous folk songs which had never been recorded before. He says: “I was intrigued by the process by which these songs which no one knew suddenly became orchestral suites by composers. Was what they were doing legitimate? Were they rescuing an indigenous culture...or was it theft?”
He originally wrote The Song Thief as a 60-minute play for Radio 4 in 2009 and, when asked to write something new for the People’s Theatre’s centenary season, he returned to the idea.
The basis of the story is the same but, for the new two-hour stage play, he has added two new aristocratic characters and written new and longer scenes.