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Interview: Who Doesn’t Love A Library Day?

Joseph Coelho and David Gibb discuss Luna Loves Library Day

Joseph Coelho – Children’s Poet Laureate no less – has collaborated with celebrated composer David Gibb to produce a brand new musical of his delightful Luna Loves book series. If you’ve come across these books you will know they are simply delightful, filled with magic and surprises, friendship and family. They poetically celebrate the everyday and the extraordinary, whilst gently examining the dilemmas many children have in their lives. We are soooo excited to chat with both Joseph and David, and to hear about this new stage adaptation.

Firstly, Joseph. I had not come across Luna Loves… until I saw this show coming up and when I read the first book Luna Loves the Library I was beaming from ear to ear with a little tear in my eye at the same time. It so perfectly captures a child’s emotional landscape, with gorgeous lyricism. Can you tell us about how you thought up Luna and how she came to be in the library in the first place?

JOSEPH – I was inspired through my work visiting libraries and watching the transformative power libraries can have on adults and children alike. I enjoyed going to the library as a kid and those moments of magic when elements escape from the books Luna opens are something I can very much relate to.

What made you consider adapting this wonderful story for the stage?

JOSEPH – I think because the book suggests a whole world beyond itself. Adapting this text, I wanted children to be moved by a live theatre experience, to leave the theatre singing our songs and excited to visit their local library. Working with David on the scripts and songs has been a complete joy: it is so wonderful to be on the same page as a collaborator. I find we really are able to jam, bouncing ideas off one another and finding the heart of the story.

Will you try to reference Fiona Lumbers’ beautiful artwork from the picture books in the set? Will there be extra layers, like a book within the book?

JOSEPH – The set design is by Nomi Everall and is very much inspired by Fiona’s beautiful illustrations. There’s lots of unexpected moments and extra layers, which I won’t spoil in advance, but I will say that we’ve worked hard to make sure the library shelves are just as magical and surprising as in the book. Myself and Fiona have spent a lot of time in Luna’s world; we are now on book seven in the series, so it was easy to extend the world with David for the stage.

So David, the books offer readers a chance to join in with checks and clicks. Have you got similar audience participation planned for the musical?

David: There’s going to be lots of interactive moments, and definitely the chance to check in some books. We’ve even made the show’s programme into a library card which children can draw their picture onto, and then get stamped at the end of the show. It’s valid for lifetime membership for all fictional libraries!

Clearly Joseph’s work is wonderfully poetic and rhythmic. What were your thoughts when you were asked to put such fabulous writing into a musical score?

Joe’s book really spoke to me as a songwriter. The structure of the story is based on Luna and her Dad discovering lots of different books in the library, and each time this happens it provides such a natural musical moment in the show. But I think the other thing is that this is a story with real emotional depth, and the chance to explore that musically in children’s theatre is far rarer than you might think. We’ve not shied away from really exploring what it feels like for all family members when parents separate.

Your company, Little Seeds Music, is renowned for creating really high quality work for families. Can you tell us about the format for this musical performance?

So actor and musician Nicki Davy will be playing Luna’s Mum as well as the librarian. We actually have a piano built into the librarian’s check-in desk – we definitely think all libraries should install this feature! Then Kane Matthews, who plays Luna’s Dad, will be playing guitar and singing. We liked the idea that Luna’s Mum and Dad are on guitar and piano respectively, as it demonstrates their different parenting styles, and shows how when they work together and listen to each other, they’re always more effective as a partnership. Part of the idea behind this show, was to take the essentials of West End musical theatre and boil them down so that you retain the quality and wow-factor, but have a show that can appear in a library in front of 40 people who will have never ever seen anything like it before. Past credits for our cast include Dreamgirls, Motown The Musical (national tours), and Merrily We Roll Along (Southwark Playhouse), so there’s some serious talent and incredible voices in this show.

You’ve talked before about how important it is for families to enjoy a show together, and family is also a big part of Joseph’s stories, which are filled with masses of positivity and difference, access and representation. Can you tell us about how these ideas might be realised through your musical style?

In the story Luna’s Dad grew up in Jamaica, and her Mum is white British, meaning Luna has mixed heritage. We explore what this means for both Luna and her Dad really explicitly through a song Dad sings to Luna called ‘This Part of Me’. It’s a really beautiful and joyful moment about the gifts we inherit from our families. One of the biggest things we wanted to ensure was that the production never strayed into the realms of being an ‘issues’ show. In 2021 there were 2.3 million families recorded as having parents who have separated. Yet you so rarely see these families presented on stage or on screen as being happy, healthy, joyful and full of love. So whilst we don’t shy away from acknowledging the pain and difficulty that comes with parental separation, our highest priority was to show a father and daughter having fun together exploring stories in their brilliant local library.

And what are you hoping your audiences will take away from this production?

For my part, I really want families to make an emotional connection to this production, and to feel moved by and invested in the journey that Luna and her Mum and Dad are on as they try and find their new normal. But I think most of all I want people to come away feeling uplifted and full of the joy of music, song, and of course, libraries!

Thanks so much to both Joseph and David for taking the time to tell us about Luna Loves Library Day the Musical. The show is planning a nationwide tour starting in October at Z-Arts in Manchester. Full tour dates can be found here.

ET will be catching up with it later in the run. Watch this space!

You can hear one of the fab tracks from the show here

About Mary Pollard

By her own admission Mary goes to the theatre far too much, and will watch just about anything. Her favourite musical is Matilda, which she has seen 16 times, but she’s also an Anthony Neilson and Shakespeare fan - go figure. She has a long history with Richmond Theatre, but is currently helping at Shakespeare's Globe as a steward and in the archive. She's also having fun being ET's specialist in children's theatre and puppetry, and being a Super Assessor for the Offies! Mary now insists on being called The Master having used the Covid pandemic to achieve an award winning MA in London's Theatre and Performance.