In June this year Dr. Eve Tandoi visited the Seven Stories Collection, delving into the David Wood Archive. Eve was kind enough to share her experience with us here…

Of course, I knew that archives existed and that people did research in them; friends would disappear for a week or month and return with stories of nineteenth century books whose unexpected mooing ruptured the sacred – and slightly stuffy – silence of reading rooms… Therefore, I was delighted to be greeted by an array of friendly faces and a cup of tea on arrival at the Seven Stories!

The department within which I work at the University of Gloucestershire kindly provided the funding for my visit in which I was planning to explore the David Wood Collection. I am not sure whether it was due to my inexperience or to the same misplaced optimism that affects all researchers, but I did not come close to covering the amount of ground I had set out to survey. Out of the 135 archive boxes replete with material related to David Wood’s career as a children’s playwright I explored only two related to his adaptation of Philippa Pearce’s Tom’s Midnight Garden.

'Tom's Midnight Garden' by Philippa Pearce (Oxford University Press, 1958)
© Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children's Books

Written in 1958, Tom’s Midnight Garden was adapted for stage by David Wood ( in 2000 and presented by the Unicorn Theatre at the Pleasance Theatre in London to great critical acclaim. The production then toured the UK and played at the New Victory Theatre in New York. Since then the Manchester Library Theatre (2002 – 2003) and the Birmingham Stage Company (2013 – 2014) ( have produced it and the Unicorn Theatre ( returned to the play for the opening of their new state-of-the-art venue at London Bridge.

Photograph © Birmingham Stage Company, 2013


Helen Freshwater (2003) warns of the ‘allure’ of the archive and, as I immersed myself in personal correspondence, annotated drafts and promotional material, I felt a mix of warm fuzziness crossed with trepidation. After all the letters were not addressed to me, and I became aware of the degree to which I was required to imaginatively recreate that past I was exploring. Therefore, it is important to note that the account I am about to give is informed by my interests and priorities. This account is still very much in a nascent stage so any comments or questions are very welcome.

In 2008 Wood gave the inaugural Philippa Pearce Memorial Lecture at Homerton College, Cambridge ( He began the lecture by reflecting on how tricky it was to find logical reasons for Tom to remain in his pyjamas throughout most of the play. It was necessary for Tom to have a minimum of costume changes because Wood wanted to avoid scene breaks or superfluous dialogue.

Promotional image in publication made by the Unicorn Theatre, London

Photograph © Birmingham Stage Company, 2013

However, I would like to suggest that the pyjamas ended up serving another function as well. As you can see from the promotional photo of Tom in the Birmingham Stage Company production the pyjama suit also serve to make the adult actor playing Tom look younger. This is also the case for the Unicorn production in which a black, middle-aged actor was cast to play the role of Tom. In an email to Pearce’s daughter (October 2000), Wood tentatively enquires about Pearce’s reaction to their casting of Dale Supperville as Tom. To which Sally replies that Pearce was “delighted because she realised it opened up the story to a whole new audience and perception.”

Although the story is overwhelmingly set within an enclosed garden there are several occasions in her letters when Pearce refers to the need to ‘open it up’ through either casting choices and set design. In one letter, Pearce vents her frustration regarding the missed opportunities of ‘opening up’ the story to show the vast landscapes of the Broads during Tom and Hatty’s skating trip.

The archival material related to Tom’s Midnight Garden contains a series of letters that Wood and Pearce exchanged over the years. These are incredibly rich sources filled with detailed discussions of both the book and the play adaptation. I was particularly struck by a letter Wood wrote to Pearce (April 2000) in which he explains that he dispensed with a third person narrator because he wanted the audience’s attention to remain focused on the children at the heart of the story. To ensure that this happened, Wood arranged for the children to tell their own stories through two forms of self-narration: speaking ‘out front’ to the audience in first person and reading the letters that they had written each other out loud.  

There is a lovely passage in one of Pearce’s earlier letters (February 2000) where she protests at the “non-realistic, literary tone” of Tom’s letters that might have occasioned Wood’s lengthy explanation about narration. The manuscript of Pearce’s letter shows that Wood carefully circled the comment and marked it as something to discuss. Unfortunately, the archive does not stretch to audio recordings of the two’s conversations! However, in the Philippa Pearce Memorial Lecture Wood writes:

I argued that Tom could have two voices – a narrative voice and a voice in role – his character voice. I thought, and still do, that the narrative voice could be more literary, almost as though an older Tom is looking back at what happened.


In practice, these two voices mirror the semi-focalised narration in the novel that eases the reader into viewing events from Tom’s perspective. I would like to suggest that by asking the adult actor playing Tom to alternate between an older and younger voice, the script makes it easier for the viewer to accept the visual mismatch of non-naturalistic casting.

Set models for 'Tom's Midnight Garden' production
 © Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children's Books

Like Pearce’s novel, Wood’s adaptation coaxes viewers into believing that time and space on stage are fluid and flexible. Re-reading the book in preparation for this blog post, I was struck by the text’s lyricism and the way Pearce allows the garden to slip and slide across times of day and seasons of the year: from earliest summer when the “hyacinths were still out in the crescent beds” to latest summer when “the pears on the wall were muffled in muslin bags for safe keeping” (Pearce 1958: 49). As you can see from set design for the Manchester Library Theatre, very little is needed to transition from house to garden and then back again. The surrealistic set design is dominated by a clock as it is in the Unicorn productions and all unnecessary props are dispensed with. In the letters that Pearce and Wood exchanged, it is possible to discern a growing understanding of just how much it is possible for the viewer to accept within the play’s dreamlike structure. This dreamlike structure is reinforced by having the cast of actor speak as the house, beginning with a chant that echoes the inscription found on the grandfather clock in the novel, “And there shall be, time no longer” (Revelation 10:6).

At the same time as Wood’s adaptation allows for characters and viewers to slip between times and spaces on stage, the two historical periods represented within Tom’s Midnight Garden are carefully identified. Pearce is particularly attentive to ensuring that Tom’s 1950s Britain remains uncontaminated by the late twentieth century context within which Wood is writing. For example, she is highly averse to Tom’s use of ‘wow’ and ‘double wow’ because she believe the slang will “become dated – with the wrong date.” Pearce’s alertness to historical accuracy allows the play of Tom’s Midnight Garden to perform a double time-slip and give children access to two performances of childhood: Hatty’s Edwardian childhood as it is dreamed by Mrs Bartholomew and Tom’s 1950s childhood.

Of course, just as the children sitting in the audience cannot quite reach out and touch Tom, neither can Tom touch Hatty. In the novel, the children’s bodies are shadowy and insubstantial at best – a figment of the reader’s imagination – but on stage they gain a fleshy presence that needs to be negotiated. Wood reflects on how a minor detail within the novel can gain significance on stage when the story is ‘stood up’ by actors in the Philippa Pearce Memorial Lecture where he comments on how:

With Philippa’s approval, I introduced the notion of them [Hatty and Tom] TRYING to shake hands, but realising that they cannot. This becomes a gesture in which they hold up their hands, palm to palm but don’t actually touch.

This action can be seen below in the promotional photo from the Manchester Library Theatre production:

Promotional card for 'Tom's Midnight Garden' production at Manchester Library Theatre Company
© Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children's Books

In all four productions, the actors use this greeting over the course of the performance and it is by this that Tom recognises the old Mrs Bartholomew to be a grown-up version of the young Hatty that he has played with in the garden.

A similar gesture is used in the stage adaptation of Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime and I remember being transfixed by how it allowed actors to examine the crucial role that physical contact plays in building and sustaining relationships. Right at the end of Tom’s Midnight Garden the actors playing Tom and Mrs Bartholomew explore the moment in which the characters realise that their palms can meet and touch because they are no longer separated by time. Wood describes it as a “lump in the throat moment” which got me thinking about how introducing real bodies changes things…

I am still very much processing what I read and saw during my time at the Seven Stories Archives. The David Wood Collection provides a fascinating insight into the process of adapting and of reading children’s literature that it attentive to the practicalities of moving bodies through space and time to tell a story. I cannot wait to return and explore more boxes!


Freshwater, H. (2003) The Allure of the Archive. Poetics Today. 24(4) pp. 729-758
Pearce, P. (1958) Tom’s Midnight Garden. Oxford: Oxford University Press

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