John Byrne's children's book to be adapted into family theatre show

They started life as a way of trying to get his children to sleep at night.

The characters created by the artist and playwright John Byrne and their adventures in a fictional Scottish seaside town would appear in a children’s book.

Now, a decade on, Donald and Benoit are to be turned into a family show – after being adapted by Byrne and his wife, Jeanine, a leading theatre-maker, at their home in Edinburgh over the last year.

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The couple have written new songs with composer Ben Occhipinti for the musical theatre piece, which will be premiered as an audio drama in the run-up to Christmas.

John Byrne's children's book Donald and Benoit was published in 2011.

The expanded storyline from the 2011 book will feature nods to some of John Byrne’s best-known work, including The Slab Boys and Tutti Frutti.

It is hoped the unlikely friendship between a young boy and his cat will be performed before audiences in Pitlochry in the near future.

Connor Goring, who starred in the outdoor production of Wind in the Willows at Pitlochry in the summer, Taggart favourite Colin McCredie, Glasgow Girls’ Patricia Panther, Still Game’s Gavin Mitchell, Shetland and Outlander’s Kirsty Stuart and Bloodlands star Cara Kelly have been cast in Donald and Benoit’s initial incarnation.

It will be premiered on Sound Stage, the audio-video platform launched by Pitlochry Festival Theatre during its Covid shutdown, from 17-19 December.

Jeanine and John Byrne at their home in Edinburgh.

Partly inspired by the impact of the fishing industry on the environment in north east Scotland, Donald and Benoit is set in a “magical realism world” with talking dogs and cats.

Benoit’s fisherman father ends up missing at sea after being forced to head into deeper waters to try to eke out a living, while his mother has passed away. But as a growing bond develops with his mischievous feline friend, they encounter the characters to be found at the local Dark Night of the Lemon Sole Cafe and in the ranks of Fishertown’s band, The Dancing Devil Dogs.

John said: “Donald and Benoit is my first and only children’s book.

“The characters really just came into my head. I had to make up a new tale about them every night to read to Xavier and Honor to help them go to sleep.

book

"I had great fun doing the original book. I wouldn’t have set out to do it if I didn't think it would be.

“I never imagined that the book would end up as a play. It has surprised and amazed me.”

Jeanine said it was only when they began to adapt the book that she realised Donald and Benoit were actually based on Xavier and Honor, who are now 24.

She said: “I have been saying to John for ages I thought that Donald and Benoit would make a great stage show and eventually he said ‘go for it’.

“I would write a scene or scenes, which we would then read together and talk about, so it was quite good fun to adapt.

“The book is very much a coffee-table book, so the story has had to be really expanded, with lots of different characters.

"I wanted it to really echo John’s life and career, so there are nods in there to Tutti Frutti and The Slab Boys.

“Hopefully it will be really great fun, really joyful and have all lots of dancing, singing, fun and silliness.

“I just want it to be really joyful, which I think is what we all need at the moment.”

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