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Teacher hopes to inspire with musical adaptation of beloved Norfolk book

PUBLISHED: 12:11 01 September 2017 | UPDATED: 12:19 01 September 2017

In 'When Marnie Was There', Anna is sent to Heacham for the summer. Photo: Ashley Taylor

In 'When Marnie Was There', Anna is sent to Heacham for the summer. Photo: Ashley Taylor

Ashley Taylor

A performing arts teacher from Wells is adapting a beloved children’s book set in North Norfolk into a musical to be performed by local school kids.

Deborah Sheppard outside the house at Burnham Overy Staithe which inspired her mother's book. Picture: Chris Bishop Deborah Sheppard outside the house at Burnham Overy Staithe which inspired her mother's book. Picture: Chris Bishop

Musical theatre producer Elizabeth Dark came to the UK from Australia nine years ago, after being inspired by descriptions of the North Norfolk coastline in the ghostly children’s book, When Marnie Was There,

And after meeting her partner, Robert Smith, the Wells harbour master, while researching the settings of her beloved childhood story, she settled in the area in 2008, where she now works as a performing arts teacher.

The book, set in the Marsh House, or ‘the house with the blue windows’, in Burnham Overy Staithe, was written by Kings Lynn author Joan G. Robinson.

Originally published in 1967, the story deals with themes of isolation, loneliness, and coming to terms with loss in childhood.

Performing arts teacher, Elizabeth Dark, spent a year writing the adaptation. Photo: Elizabeth Dark Performing arts teacher, Elizabeth Dark, spent a year writing the adaptation. Photo: Elizabeth Dark

Its about a girl named Anna, who is fostered in Norfolk, and meets a mysterious friend, known only as Marnie.

Ms Dark said: “It’s taken me ten years to get here, but I’ve got the rights for two years.”

“The kids I work with put Norfolk down as a backwater, as something to run away from, I’m trying to show them how wonderful it is, and make them realise it’s a place to be proud of.

“It is a stunning county, and I think I can see it more as an outsider. While it’s peaceful and agricultural, there’s such a lot of life and vibrancy to it.

'When Marnie Was There' poster artwork from the anime film adaptation. Image: Studio Ghibli 'When Marnie Was There' poster artwork from the anime film adaptation. Image: Studio Ghibli

“Norfolk has some great ghost stories and this is one of them.”

Read more: Author would have approved of Japanese re-make of mysterious story set at Burnham Overy Staithe in north Norfolk

Ms Dark is setting up a new platform for performers, creatives, and writers.

Called Chink-in-the-Wall Productions, it’s named after a line from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the adaptation of When Marnie Was There is its very first project.

The house at Burnham Overy Staithe which inspired the mysterious story of Anna and Marnie. Picture: Chris Bishop The house at Burnham Overy Staithe which inspired the mysterious story of Anna and Marnie. Picture: Chris Bishop

After having the book on her bookshelf as a child, and discovering she could write music, Ms Dark had always wanted to adapt the story. She described it as consisting of themes of: “ostracisation and loneliness.”

She added that: “The loneliness of Anna reflects the loneliness of the kids I see in schools.

The off-beat, alternative kids are often the ones drawn to musical theatre.

“It’s a really positive way of bringing kids out of themselves and into the real world.

“The story is not only about isolation, its about reconnecting.”

Read more: West End dream for North Walsham High School teacher from Wells

When Marnie Was There - local schools will star in musical adaptation

Schools from across Norfolk will perform in Elizabeth Dark’s adaptation of the beloved Norfolk-set novel, When Marnie Was There.

Aylsham High, Aldenham Peel, Dereham Neatherd, and Ormiston Victory Academy will all take part in the performance of the musical.

Each school will work on a 15-20 minute section of the play, coached by Ms Dark.

The whole group will come together for a one-day rehearsal at Dereham Memorial Hall, ahead of their first performance on November 24th.

The initial performance will serve as a development workshop, with the audience asked to give constructive criticism for the final draft of the show, to be performed at the end of 2018.

Ms Dark aims to use the project to break down the barriers between schools and students, emphasising the story’s theme of reconnecting.

The project is looking for funding and sponsorship.

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