Top 5 books that became West End shows

Posted on 30 August 2018

It’s not always the case that a play or musical based on a book becomes a smash hit. 2007’s Lord of the Rings, for example, which holds the record for the most expensive West End musical ever made with a whopping £25m budget, completely missed the mark. And Moby-Dick, a whaling musical that ran at the Piccadilly Theatre back in 1992, was a total ‘box-office belly flop’. But then there are shows that go above and beyond their original source material, transferring from page to stage with astounding success. Read our picks for the Top 5 Book-To-Stage Productions, both new and old.

Pictured: Christopher Boone lays in a chalk outline of his neighbour’s murdered dog in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Olivier Award-winning actor Luke Treadaway originated the role in the 2012 production of the play.

1. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
If you’re looking for a textbook example of a book-to-play success story, then this is it. Based on British author Mark Haddon’s 2003 mystery novel of the same name, this Simon Stephens play broke records and stunned audiences and critics alike. Following its West End transfer to the Apollo Theatre, the show won an astonishing 7 Olivier Awards out of 8 nominations, including Best New Play, Best Actor (Luke Treadaway), and Best Director (Marianne Elliott).

The plot for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time follows Christopher Boone, a 15-year-old boy and mathematical genius with an autism spectrum disorder who hates being touched and has never ventured further than the end of his road. But one night, when his neighbour’s dog, Wellington, is found mysteriously dead, having been stabbed with a garden fork with no clear-cut evidence found at the scene of the crime, Christopher decides to play detective and solve the case himself, forced to go where he’s never gone before.

The stage adaptation took the original book and did something completely new and innovative. Rather than adhering to the novel’s first-person narrative, the play was instead narrated by Christoper’s teacher and the audience bore witness to a play-a-within-a-play. Having been praised for its special effects, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time featured blinding lights, words that spelled themselves into existence, street signs and a staircase appearing out of nowhere all to create the illusion that you were witnessing the world through the disoriented eyes of the ill-fated protagonist.

The play’s unique approach is arguably one of the many reasons why it enjoyed an incredibly long run in London’s West End for a book-to-stage adaptation. Everyone and their dog, no pun intended, wanted to experience this extraordinary production, and as a result, tickets were in high demand. There’s no doubt that fans of the show and London audiences are hoping for a 2018 return of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

2. Matilda
Coming in at number two on our list, Matilda is Roald Dahl’s classic tale of tortured childhood and telekinetics. It comes to life on the West End stage in a flurry of books and great group numbers.

3. Wicked
Fractured fairy tales are all the rage and Wicked sets the story straight. How does someone become Wicked? Can people change For Good?

4. The Woman in Black
This horror novel turned stage play has become known as the most terrifying live theatre experience in the world, shocking West End audiences since 1989. This edge-of-your-seat show is surely one for the ages.

5. War Horse
When it was announced that this children’s book would be brought to the stage people were incredulous, they didn’t think it could be done. The incredible puppetry used in the show as well as the continuous capacity performances proved “them” wrong!

Do you agree with our list? Are you crossing your fingers for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time to make a 2018 comeback?

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Nicholas Ephram Ryan Daniels

By Nicholas Ephram Ryan Daniels

Ephram is a jack of all trades and enjoys attending theatre, classical music concerts and the opera.