Barney Farmer’s novel Drunken Baker, based on Farmer’s characters created with illustrator Lee Healey for the celebrated Viz comic strip The Drunken Bakers, is beginning its journey from page-to-stage this month, thanks to a team including Hull dramatists.
The book has been adapted for a theatre production by Preston-based Farmer alongside Hull playwright Dave Windass. The new version will bring to glorious life, in three dimensions and finally off the page, the two nameless bakers that inhabit a bakers in a northern town that’s almost shut up shop, who spend their days drinking and doing very little baking.
A first chance to experience this incarnation of a work that has been compared to Samuel Beckett will take place at The Old Courts, Wigan on Thursday, 13th February at 7.30pm. The night will see a rehearsed reading put before a live audience who will be invited to provide feedback to the creative team before a full production takes place later in 2020.
Barney Farmer said: “It’s the first time I’ve written for the theatre, which moves in a different dimension to a comic strip and a novel but I’m excited to roll up my sleeves and see what audiences make of a live action version. The strip’s one thing, for myself and Lee, the novel’s another and has had a good reception, but this is another world completely.
“We’ve had to consider what we need to do to take something that’s a very individual and solitary experience – burying your head in a comic or a book – and how we transfer what works with text, and illustrations, on to a stage, and what the style of a theatre production will be.”
Dave Windass added: “I fell in love with Barney’s novel Drunken Baker from the moment I got my hands on it and I can see why Barney has explored the bakers’ lives beyond the confines of a comic strip. It’s about as far removed from being an obvious choice to adapt for the stage but that’s exactly why we should be doing this. It’s different, it’s hard-hitting, it says a lot about the state of the nation and the state of the High Street and at its heart are these two, at times, grotesque and damaged characters who are confronted by decline everywhere they turn. They have their reasons for living and working the way they do, as we all do.
“The book and the strip definitely stand up to those Beckett comparisons and hopefully that absurdist spirit will remain intact when we get it on stage, along with Barney’s great sense of humour and ability to make really important political points without beating anyone into submission. It’s funny but also incredibly moving.”
Robin Ince has declared Drunken Baker ‘a remarkable book’, while Alan Moore has repeatedly sung its praises. Farmer’s work as an author has also recently been lumped in with other literature collectively christened ‘Brexlit’ by academic Robert Eaglestone, who praised Farmer’s efforts to depict the harsh reality of those living in the north of England.
The bakers will be played by actors Alan Williams and Martin Barrass, who both come to the production with glowing reputations, including appearing in playwright Richard Bean’s work. The play will be directed by Hull’s Andrew Pearson. Some illustrations will also be provided by Farmer’s Viz collaborator Healey, so fans of the comic strip version won’t be disappointed.
Barney Farmer added: “It’s the first outing for this stage version so it’s a chance for audiences to get in right at the beginning of something and we’re genuinely interested in what they make of it all, whether we’re making the right moves. It’s a rehearsed reading, which means there’ll be scripts in hand but if all goes well, and it will, we’ll keep on baking the show and intend to mount a full production later in the year.”
Dave Windass added: “We’re really looking forward to starting the journey with this play at The Old Courts in Wigan. The team there have been very supportive of us and are providing rehearsal and venue space.”
Drunken Baker is at The Old Courts, Wigan, WN1 1NA on Thursday, 13th February at 7.30pm. Doors open at 7pm. Tickets are free and can be booked in advance at https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/drunken-baker-rehearsed-reading-tickets-92900633295
The research and development of this play adaptation has been supported by Arts Council England.