TIM HUGHES previews the stage show of a popular tale for children about a fearful bird

WHO has ever heard of an owl to scared to go out at night?

This bonkers premise is the background to the best-selling children’s classic The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark. And now this kids' favourite, which follows Plop the baby barn owl as he journeys into the night-time world of campfires, fireworks, starry nights and moonlit adventures to overcome his fear of the dark, has been brought to the stage by acclaimed children’s theatre company Blunderbus.

The production, based on the much-loved book by Jill Tomlinson, comes to the Cornerstone, Didcot, on Saturday April 16, in a production aimed at three-seven year-olds.

"We wanted to tell the story in Jill Tomlinson’s own words, which are so beautiful," says artistic director Bill Davies.

"This was a challenge, as there are lots of characters to meet, the passage of time from day to night and back again. Then there’s a giant firework display, glittering skies and moonlit nights. If that isn’t enough, there’s also a flying Barn Owl!"

Commenting on the adaptation of the book, he said: "Our play is about siblings who are camping for the first time without any adults. But Sam, the youngest sibling, is terrified of the dark, and would much prefer to stay awake all night long.

"After much head-scratching, the decision is made to tell Sam the story of Plop, the baby Barn Owl. But, in telling the story, the siblings will play all of the parts."

He goes on: "We made the decision to focus more on Plop’s relationship with his mum; we’d spend time in the nest, getting to know them both, as Mrs Barn Owl tries to teach Plop to fly, to hunt, to sleep all the way through the daylight hours.

"It’s a lovely, enchanting, funny relationship, which Jill develops with such a magical touch."

Of course, with a cast of characters as rich as those in the original book, some had to be left out.

This is a 55 minute show, so it would not be possible to meet all of the characters from the storybook," says Bill. "We decided that the best thing to do was introduce those characters we felt were very different to one another. So, in our stage play, the audience will meet Plop the baby Barn Owl, Mrs Barn Owl, The firework boy, the old lady, and the boyscout."

The passage of time is marked by the use of lights - and additional characters. Bill explains: "Plop’s story is told over three days and nights; in theatre performances, this is easy to suggest with theatre lighting. But, for schools, we needed to signal the time of day, so we invented Mr Moon and Mr Sun. They work as external narrators, who not only announce the time of day or night, but also make comment about the action onstage.

"Along with the actor playing the role of Plop, we also use a flying rod puppet to bring Plop to life during the flight sequences, and a tabletop puppet is used for the interactions in the human world."

And it is going down very well with theatre-goers of all ages, 100,000 of whom have already seen it.

"We’re very proud of this funny, charming, magical stage production," says Bill. "It remains true to Jill’s original story, and of course, it has a very happy ending. Plop, the baby Barn Owl becomes a real night-bird!

The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark is on at Cornerstone on April 16 at 11am and 2pm.

Tickets cost £8.50, £6.50 (concs). To book, call 01235 515144 or visit cornerstone-arts.org.