Wood explained the process. The first thing he does is read the book several times, taking notes each time; streamlining the story; getting rid of sub-plots that over-complicate the tale and (he said) do not work well for plays where children form a large part of the audience. A major consideration is where to place the interval. It must be at point in the story where the audience is interested enough to want to return for the second-half. An audience that has lost interest will not hang around and buy ice-cream; intermission sales are important to theatres and including a suitable intermission point often forms part of the writer’s contract. Another consideration is the number of actors who will appear in the play. Wood explained that he often has to exclude characters in the books from the stage version, as he may have to write something that can be performed by a cast as small as three – the actors can take on multiple roles, but the writer must make sure they are not scheduled to appear on stage at the same time.
Then followed a demonstration of how formulaic successful children’s books often are. He asked the audience for a list of key features that come up in most, if not all, of Dahl’s books. The list included a child or young person as the main protagonist; fantasy, magic, animals, “baddies” and grim things happening to the main the character (in many of Dahl’s books the child-hero is orphaned or has dreadful parents). He asked the audience to suggest any successful children’s book – Harry Potter was put forward – and it was easy to see how the Potter books share the same key ingredients as most Dahl books. So do many others; the formula works well, so why change it? It was an interesting hour for both adults and children; Wood was skilled at keeping the children engaged and one boy asked whether he was going to adapt Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. But sadly, he cannot – Hollywood owns the rights.