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Adapted from Jamila Gavin’s Whitbread Award-winning novel, Coram Boy is a captivating and haunting adventure. This production reunites director Anna Ledwich and designer Simon Higlett, both of whom have a plethora of production credits at CFT including The Butterfly Lion and Pinocchio which they worked on together. We caught up with both of them to find out more about their production and what we can expect from the design.

What excites you about tackling this piece on the Festival stage?

Anna: I think it’s such a great choice for the Festival Theatre stage. There’s lots of intertwining plots; it spans eight years from 1742 to 1750, a really exciting period of time. All the colonies are bringing massive amounts of money back into England, so there’s interesting commentary on how wealth is built and what the cost of that is. And within that you have lost children, young love, betrayal, villains, angels, coincidences, reconciliations. It’s so epic and rich and theatrical.

Simon: I love working at CFT, but the Festival Theatre is a difficult space to design for - even just to make sure that everything is seen! What I really try to do with any design is to do something different each time, something that hasn’t been done before. That’s where the real excitement lies.

A brown-haired woman sits at a table, smiling at something out of frame. She has glasses on her head, is wearing a gold watch and has her arms crossed. She is wearing a black jumper. On the table in front of her is a script, a pencil and a mug of tea.
Director Anna Ledwich in rehearsal for Coram Boy

It’s so epic and rich and theatrical

Anna Ledwich

Coram Boy is a big piece with an array of characters and action that moves very quickly across various locations – how do you begin to put this on stage?

Anna: It does move rapidly through lots of different locations. Our production manager read it and said, ‘It’s a film script! How are you going to do it?’ But what I love about it is that it’s an invitation to really embrace the overt theatricality of that wonderful space, which invites the audience to embrace it and wrap itself around it.

Simon: It’s a big play and there are lots of locations, so the first thing I did is write down every scene and location and researched them all, then you kind of have to throw that away and ask what you really need. How do you suggest a ship, a hall, a cathedral? We visited Gloucester Cathedral and the docks as one of the only 18th century locations still in existence and really used that to inspire parts of the design.

I also went to the Foundling Museum, and it truly is an amazing story. William Hogarth and George Frederic Handel contributed work in order to raise money. It’s such a rich, fascinating and to be honest quite sobering part of our history that I didn’t really know much about.

When these women had to give up their babies they left them with a token – such as a piece of fabric from their mother’s dress – and there are thousands of these that have been collected. At the museum there are huge books of 18th and 19th century fabrics, and so we’ve tried to incorporate these little details and historic references within the design of the play.

The model box for Coram Boy Image: Designed by Simon Higlett 2024

It’s such a rich, fascinating and to be honest quite sobering part of our history

Simon Higlett

What can audiences expect from the piece?

Anna: We’re going to have a wonderfully large company of actors; it’s going to be about great performers in that space – this is about really simple storytelling. But what’s also wonderful about this production, apart from the scope of it, is that it really taps into some wonderful, profound ideas about connection, and parent/child relationships, and the cost of creativity. We’re also going to be connecting with Chichester Festival Youth Theatre and with Chichester Cathedral Choir to help with the singing, because one of the big characters in the play is Handel’s Messiah. It’s written into the play and there are various moments in which that wonderful music is sung.

Simon: It’s melodramatic and captivating, sensationalist and exciting. It’s looking at the untold stories of our history and unscrupulous characters but through the eyes of children who’ve found hope and joy through art and music.

Don’t miss this moving and richly colourful tale of 18th century England, running from 24 May – 15 June. Tickets from £10, head to the show page for more info.

Models of miniature chairs, two miniature carts and two miniature pianos on a piece of white paper.
Some of the props and set pieces for Coram Boy Image: Designed by Simon Higlett 2024

Costume designs

As well as designing the set for Coram Boy, Simon Higlett is also working up the designs for the costumes (and there are quite a few!). Take a look at the video below to get an idea of how Simon has been envisioning the costumes in these beautiful sketches.