Peter Jackson spent over £200 million filming the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and bought himself some pretty nifty visual effects in the process. But there’s more than one way to lift JRR Tolkien’s words from the page, as theatre producer Vanessa Ford can testify. In 1998, when she first approached the film company who own the rights to Tolkien’s novels, Ford was met with a barrage of scepticism.
‘I was doubtful that I could get the rights to The Hobbit,’ recalls Ford. ‘But I thought I’d give it a try anyway. And the film company in America said we don’t know how you could possibly do a journey story of that nature on the stage – as far as they were concerned it would only work on film.’
Despite this, Ford and her late husband Glyn Robbins were invited to put together a synopsis. Which, along with their proven track record for producing other epic journey stories on stage, such as The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, was enough to convince the company to give them a shot.
‘We told them we wanted to do every single episode there is in the book,’ says Ford. ‘And to make it as magical and as real as we could – so if the book says the characters encounter a giant spider or a dragon, we’re going to have one on stage. So they said okay then, give it a go.’
Three successful UK tours later, Ford has proved that Tolkien’s words can come to life without the aid of celluloid. Seven years after it was last seen, The Hobbit is back on tour, complete with dwarves, goblins, wolves and the aforementioned spider and dragon. ‘It’s a very meaty show,’ says Ford, ‘and what I like to call whole family entertainment.’
Edinburgh Festival Theatre, Tue 23–Sun 28 Mar