'39 Steps meets Naked Gun but for children' - Adapting the Falcon’s Malteser for the Fringe

The Falcon’s Malteser is the story of private detective Tim Diamond and his younger brother Nick becoming embroiled in a malteser-related mystery. New Old Friends bring their adaptation of Anthony Horowitz’s novel to the Edinburgh Fringe. Tom Moyser caught up with company directors (and married couple) Feargus Woods Dunlop and Heather Westwell to talk car chases, barcodes and bad jokes.

Tim is one of the stupidest characters in Literature!

What was it about Falcon’s Malteser that made you want to adapt it?

Feargus: A few years ago I ran a summer school loosely based around film noir storytelling. I read Falcon’s Malteser as research. I loved every bit of it. I then suggested Heather read it and she loved it as well.

Every evening she’d read another chapter, laugh her head off and say ‘this would make an incredible stage show.’ I kept saying, well go on then, grab the rights and see what happens. So, after months of emails and phonecalls, Heather arranged for us to meet with Anthony [Horowitz] in a coffee shop in Bath.

Heather: We had to put together a pitch of what our vision was going to be for it. We wanted it to have the feel of 39 Steps meets Naked Gun but for children. And he was like, yeah, I like the sound of that.

And we wanted a set that could involve things transforming in front of you. I see a lot of children’s theatre and I love it when something that was one thing originally is something a bit different another time. As a child, to watch that change...

That’s in the novel as well, lots of things in the story turn out to be something else. The falcon for example.

Feargus: Absolutely. All the way through the story, things are not always quite what they seem. We had a lot of fun with that. Heather plays about ten different characters.

And your character [Feargus plays hapless detective Tim] - I don’t mean to be insulting - is an absolute idiot. Is it difficult to play that stupid?

[Heather laughs, as if at Feargus.]

Feargus: Sadly, no. I do walk into an awful lot of things. The original idea was the Heather and I would do the multi-roling. We thought we’d create these huge grotesques to surround the central two brothers. Then, when we met Anthony, he mentioned in passing ‘by the way, you’re exactly how I imagined Tim ’ I wasn’t quite sure whether to take that as a compliment or not - Tim is one of the stupidest characters in Literature!

Actually if you listen to Tim carefully, every once in a while he gets things right. He does have flashes of prescience. There’s a lot of foreshadowing throughout where Tim actually solves the case but doesn’t realise. It’s hugely fun to play. The big challenge is to bring it back because the story has to power through. In rehearsals we have a lot of fun just with the stupidity.

Was there anything in rehearsals that was just too silly that you had to drop?

[Feargus and Heather look at each other with a knowing smile.]

Feargus: We were talking about that earlier. There’s a big car chase [in the show]. That was a joyous day of rehearsals. Lee [Lyford, the show’s director] just said to us, we’re going to spend today just playing around with the car chase. At one point, during what is a very hectic chase, Himmell [one of the play’s baddies], starts playing around with the radio. We had a whole section where, when he hit a different radio station, we would break out into different dance routines. It was making us laugh an awful lot but taking away from the drama.

And there’s another moment in the book, that we just couldn’t make work, when Nick tries to go back to the hotel room for a second time and a grenade comes flying through the window. The entire thing explodes.

Heather: We wanted a big explosion...

Fearg: ...we bought grenades...

Heather: ...and we were trying to work out how we could blow it up. We reworked some of the scenes and thought, actually it doesn’t need to happen.

The show and its storyline are in a very old-fashioned style - there are no mobile phones or modern tech. What is it about it that you think appeals to young people now?

Heather: There’s something about it that’s timeless because it doesn’t rely on any technology. It’s literally just a mystery to solve. It’s just the people who you meet along the way that make it interesting. You could have it in any time.

Fearg: In the book, the photocopier is a big thing, as are barcodes. The scene where, in our story, a teacher comes out and explains how barcodes work, in the book that is incredibly detailed because barcodes were this novel thing that nobody knew about. We kept all that originally and Anthony was like ‘guys, everyone knows what a barcode is now’.

His [Horowitz’s] line about its continued popularity is ‘bad jokes don’t get old.’ Also, If the audience buy into Nick’s journey, then we could do anything.

Is Nick the audience’s eyes in the piece do you think?

Heather: Definitely.

Feargus: That’s very important to us. In theory Tim’s the lead the character. He’s not - this is very much Nick’s story. This is a piece for young people, and they need to identify with the central young person. Everything happens to Nick and he’s the only one who knows he’s telling a story.

It’s very flattering for the child watching, that their proxy in the story is the cleverest one. He’s a very knowledgeable narrator.

Feargus: They are though!

Heather: You’ll get children explaining to their parents what’s happening in the story. They’ve been the ones keeping their parents informed.

Feargus: If you really listen and ignore all of the nonsense, you can figure it out well in advance. Ideally people are just ahead of Nick. That’s our ideal audience member, that very bright young person who’s following Nick’s clues and getting there just before he delivers his lines.



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