Former Capitol manager Michael Gattrell returns to Horsham with children’s classic Dear Zoo

Michael Gattrell
Michael Gattrell

North-Bersted based director Michael Gattrell is enjoying nationwide success with the first ever stage adaption of Rod Campbell’s lift-the-flap children’s book, Dear Zoo.

Michael is particularly thrilled to be taking the production to Horsham’s Capitol, the venue he managed until five years ago.

The Horsham dates are Tuesday and Wednesday, May 29-30 (tickets on 01403 750220), a highly-appropriate date given that it was in Horsham that Michael first worked with Rod.

As Michael says, he approached Rod Campbell in 2009 after realising that Horsham District Council could produce an in-house studio Christmas show. Michael went to Waterstones, picked a few children’s Christmas books and chose Rod’s Dear Santa. He found an email, got in contact and met him in Horsham.

“And that’s where the journey started.”

Rod admitted he had “no idea of theatre” so Michael came up with the story and Rod ensured the storyline would work in terms of his book. It has been presented every Christmas since.

Once the show was up and running, Michael approached Rod to write a stage adaptation of perhaps his best-known book, Dear Zoo. A first draft was written four years ago. After a number of workshops, it premiered in Shrewsbury in February with Michael as director, before going on tour.

Dear Zoo, which has delighted generations of young readers since it was published in 1982, tells the story of a child who writes to the zoo asking them to send a pet.

Created by Norwell Lapley Productions, and directed by Michael, Dear Zoo is suitable for children aged two to six, with the story brought to life through puppets, music and audience interaction.

Michael is delighted at the response it is getting, particularly at the degree of engagement teachers are noticing, especially among the quieter members of their classes.

“The reviews we have had have been great. They say that the show does exactly what it says on the tin. It is very approachable and very accessible, and I just love it as a story.”

Already the future for the show is looking very bright. It tours until the end of May and then goes to Hong Kong and Singapore in the autumn: “And we have potentially got interest in London as well as touring the UK next year.

“I love doing this. I have worked very hard to get where I am today. It has not been easy, but it has been very rewarding. And the response to the show has been very pleasing.

“This is the first show that I have really been involved in that I have taken back to Horsham. I left Horsham five years ago in April, and I was there for 22 years. I enjoyed my time there. Every day was different. I went through the whole refurbishment of the venue, and it was a great journey. And I worked with some lovely people, but by the time I left, it was time to move on. I couldn’t have done any more.”

But Michael is grateful for the opportunities that the venue brought him, not least the fact that this latest theatrical journey might never have started if Horsham District Council hadn’t given him the chance to produce in-house.

Call the box office on 01403 750220 or visit

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