Husband and wife Feargus Woods Dunlop and Heather Westwell co-founded New Old Friends and have discovered a knack – and award-winning success – bringing detective stories to family audiences. We caught up with them as their adaptation of Anthony Horowitz’s The Falcon’s Malteser prepares for London premiere at The Vaults next month. Time to get booking!
The Falcon’s Malteser introduces the Diamond Brothers Detective Agency. Tim is the world’s worst private investigator, so can the help of his clever younger brother Nick be enough to crack their toughest case yet? A solitary box of Maltesers is delivered by a miniature Mexican, but what’s so special about these chocolates that half of London’s criminal underworld are willing to kill for them?
The show has been adapted in New Old Friends’ signature style: expect slapstick, comedy songs, a cast for four playing dozens of characters and a fully-realised car chase on stage, fun for all the family over the summer holidays.
The 1986 young adult novel by Anthony Horowitz, also the best-selling author of the Alex Rider teen spy series, is adapted by Feargus Woods Dunlop, directed by Lee Lyford with Heather Westwell. The 80-minute performance of The Falcon’s Malteser, suitable for ages 8+, stars Sian Eleanor Green and Matt Jopling as brothers Nick and Tim Diamond, alongside Fergus Leathem and Samantha Sutherland.
Talking to… Feargus Woods Dunlop & Heather Westwell
Husband and wife Feargus Woods Dunlop and Heather Westwell founded award-winning theatre company New Old Friends in 2008. Their previous shows include Crimes Against Christmas, Crimes on the Christmas Express, Crimes under the Sun and Crimes on the Nile. In 2014 and 2015, New Old Friends premiered this adaptation of The Falcon’s Malteser on two UK tours and at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, enjoying sell-out shows at the Pleasance and great critical acclaim.
How did you two meet?
Feargus: I was working on the Theatre Royal Bath’s schools pantomime project.
Heather: And I had written to the theatre asking for a work-experience placement for my degree at Bath Spa.
Feargus: Heather got posted onto the project and that was that. I mean, there were about nine months of us being just friends, but deep down I certainly knew. We got married four years later so luckily I was right.
What was the catalyst for founding New Old Friends?
Feargus: My first job after graduating from Bretton Hall, was assistant directing for Theatre Royal Bath’s Young People’s Theatre’s production of His Dark Materials and part of my fee was rehearsal space and a week’s run at The Egg. The catch was I had to submit copy and image for a show that didn’t exist in three days, so New Old Friends was born. The logic behind the name is that, when you step into the theatre, we are your new friends, but by the time you leave we feel like old friends.
What is it about detective stories that appeals?
Heather: Detective stories are wonderful. They are so compelling, you just want to know what happens next.
Feargus: I heard some theory that suggests the reason humans like them is down to an innate curiosity and that by reading/hearing these mysteries we are practising to make sense of the world around us. Not sure I buy it, but it sounds impressive.
How did you come across The Falcon’s Malteser?
Heather: Fearg was running a summer school loosely based on it and kept laughing as he read it. He handed me the book when he was done suggesting I might like it. Straight away, I saw the potential for a stage adaptation, the characters are so vivid and interesting, and the story just keeps on going. It felt like a really good fit for our style, and luckily, I was able to get the rights and audiences have responded.
What’s your opinion of Anthony Horowitz?
Heather: He is a wonderfully generous and talented man. He’s been so supportive of us as a company generally, not just with this production.
Feargus: I think the way he manages to leaven the ’thriller’ elements of his work with comedy is really lovely in his adult work. The comedy is in the background, but it is there and serves its purposes brilliant. I recently read Magpie Murders and The Word is Murder and loved them both. They’re really brilliantly twisty and unusually structured.
What were the highlights of your previous runs?
Feargus: The Edinburgh run was pretty special. The city has been a huge part of my life with lots of family there so to be part of a show that had people literally queuing around the corner in quite a big venue was incredible.
Heather: Yeah, Edinburgh was amazing. Also, when Anthony saw the show for the first time and gave us his blessing was a lovely moment. One of Fearg’s most treasured possessions is the original proof script we sent to Anthony, which has an annotation in that says “This is a great joke, wish I’d written it.” That is very cool.
Why revive it now? What’s changed?
Feargus: We’ve always wanted to bring it back because we loved it so much. It was just a case of finding the right opportunity. The chance to work with producer James Seabright was perfect – his track record speaks for itself and he’s been brilliantly supportive throughout.
Heather: It’s an entirely new cast so, of course, they bring they’re own talents and ideas to it. As we’re talking, the show is still in rehearsals so we don’t know exactly what the finished piece will be. But, at the moment, it feels like we’re heading towards about 75% of the original show with 25% being new. Maybe a bit more new, as we’re also having new sound (James Nicholson) and lighting (Jack Weir) designed especially for The Vaults, which is a really exciting space.
Do you have a favourite line?
Feargus: For me, I love Tim’s line: “Maths, nice.” Short and sweet.
Heather: I love: “I’ll never eat corn beef again!”
What are you most looking forward to about summer at The Vaults?
Heather: One of the best things is that we’re Associate Directing the play this time, so we won’t miss Edinburgh! It’s the best of both worlds for us. We get to work on this wonderfully funny show with some incredibly talented people, but then get to go and enjoy Edinburgh in August, which is one of the most exciting places in the world.
Feargus: We’re really excited to see what London audiences make of the show and our work. We’ve never presented anything in the capital for this long. It is equally terrifying and exciting.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Feargus: Um… please come and see the show? It’s really good fun.
The Falcon’s Malteser runs from 17 July to 25 August 2019 at The Vaults Theatre, Launcelot Street, London SE1 7AD, with performances Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7pm, Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are priced £15-£35. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!