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Ted Hughes’ The Iron Woman heads for the stage with Mike Kenny, Pippa Cleary and Luke Sheppard.

Posted 7th September 2018

Ted Hughes’ The Iron Woman heads for the stage with a stellar creative team: the highly acclaimed Mike Kenny, Pippa Cleary and Luke Sheppard.

The Iron Woman will be staged at The Other Palace from 10 – 13 October with public performances on 12 & 13 October.

Faber & Faber and the Ted Hughes Estate are delighted to mark today’s 25th anniversary of the publication of the author’s environmental morality tale, The Iron Woman by unveiling plans for the first-ever stage adaptation of this highly-topical book, written as a sequel to the former Poet Laureate’s enduring children’s classic, The Iron Man.

The Iron Woman has been adapted for the stage by the Olivier Award-winning writer, Mike Kenny (The Railway Children) with music by acclaimed songwriter Pippa Cleary (The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 ¾). The director is Luke Sheppard, whose many credits include associate director on the RSC’s Matilda – the Musical and In The Heights.

The show – an abridged workshop production initially – will be staged for the first time from 10-13 October 2018 at The Other Palace with public performances on 12 and 13 October. The team is actively seeking producing partners to take the adaptation to full production next year.

Ted Hughes was not only one of Britain’s major 20th century poets – Poet Laureate for 14 years till his death – but also a celebrated and prolific children’s author and environmental campaigner.

The Iron Woman is a magical and inspiring story – a modern children’s classic that is at times spine-tingling, at times hilarious – of how young people fight back against the pollution killing the wildlife in our rivers and seas… all seen through the eyes of a young girl. As Lucy walks home from school one day, a fearsome Iron Woman emerges from the marsh. She is furious about the pollution caused by a waste factory and intends to teach the townspeople a lesson. Generations of fans of The Iron Man, who have kept that book a bestseller 50 years after it was first published, will be delighted that Lucy enlists the support of the original Iron Man and his young friend, Hogarth, to help her find a solution.

Hughes lived with his wife of 28 years, Carol, in a small Devonshire town till he died in 1998, and she decided to approach Lord Lloyd Webber last year with the idea of turning one of the poet’s’ most dramatic and topical children’s books into a stage musical: “This October will also be 20 years since Ted’s death, and I wanted to mark that anniversary in a positive way by highlighting his writing for children and his lifelong passion for the environment. This story of Lucy and the Iron Woman is a gripping, magical fable of what we can achieve once we, and the generations of children who follow us, realise we do have within us the power to fight back against the seemingly-relentless pollution blighting our lands, rivers and seas. We all have an Iron Woman within us,” she said.

Mike Kenny, who is adapting the book for its stage premiere, explains what attracted him to the story: “The story seems incredibly contemporary… it feels like the Iron Woman’s time has come. What has changed in the 25 years since it was written is that what Ted was talking about has got worse, if anything. The planet is in dire need of our attention and Ted was there very early on. It is about facing the truth, exposing falseness, and that is never going to go out of fashion.”

And he’s confident that The Iron Woman’s theme will strike a chord with children: “All the young people I know are very concerned about the world at the moment, they are very engaged. They are not just off partying. What the best children’s writing does is put children at the centre of the action, make them feel that they matter, that they are important, that what they do makes a difference. I am honoured that I have been entrusted with adapting this book. It is very timely and I think it is going to be rather special.”

Luke Sheppard, who will direct The Iron Woman, adds: “It is a privilege to be able to work with material this phenomenal… a wonderful book that’s as entertaining as it is provoking. Ted was extraordinarily ahead of his time: here we have two strong female protagonists who have a story to tell, and 2018 feels like the year to give that story life. We are in a world that is ready to hear the tale, which is at once about our relationship with the environment but also the relationship that women have in telling stories.

“This material can work for all ages. There is something in it that absolutely resonates with an adult audience but also for young people who love a challenge. There is nothing about the book that ever talks down to young people. And this is something that we spend a lot of our time discussing… it is about finding a language that captures Ted’s voice and his extraordinary ability to talk up to young people and to offer them a challenge: to be the young adults of the future, and that is something that keeps us incredibly excited. I hope it will be a thrilling show for all ages.”

And composer and song-writer Pippa Cleary says she has always been a fan of Ted Hughes’ work so this opportunity was “a dream come true. I was intrigued by the message of the piece. It’s definitely a story that lends itself perfectly to being told on stage. There are some fantastical and fantastic characters, and a beautiful poignant story that I think everyone will be able to relate to. I also hope the music will stick in children’s minds and that they’ll be singing the songs for days after!”

Adaptor Mike Kenny agrees that the role of music in the show can’t be underestimated: “Music is probably vital to realising it on a stage because music has this mysterious quality… it’s something that addresses the emotional life directly. Music doesn’t go to the intellect it goes straight to the feelings. Having that alongside the words make the thing possible”, he said.

Faber & Faber are celebrating the major anniversaries of both books – The Iron Man was published 50 years ago and The Iron Woman 25 years ago this week. New editions of both books include a foreword written by Hughes’ longtime friend and fellow-author, Sir Michael Morpurgo, author of Warhorse.

The Iron Woman will be staged at The Other Palace from 10 – 13 October with public performances on 12 & 13 October.