"I didn't even go through his publicist," says Knutton. "All of a sudden, my little Cornish theatre company had exclusive rights to adapt an international bestseller. That's the magic of the story. Extraordinarily he gave us a shot at it. Why? He said that at certain points in his own career, there were people along the way who gave him a chance."
The first small-scale productions of The Alchemist were performed in village halls in 2001. A cast of five actors play all the parts, using direct narrative from the book, with puppetry to represent camels, fighting hawks, sheep and horses. The set is uncomplicated, using material in rich desert colours, with Islamic blue-and-white patterned floor cloths and long pieces of silk that become tents and sails of ships.
In 2005, during the London leg of The Alchemist's first national tour, Coelho turned up and gave the show his thumbs-up. "I thanked him for helping me," says Knutton. "His new book, The Zahir, was just out. In it he talks about a favour bank: as you go through life, you have the chance to allow other people to benefit from your success. He was living by his own principles."
Knutton founded the Cornish Theatre Collect-ive in 1997. "The Alchemist has opened a lot of doors for us," he says. "The journey the play's main character goes on has been paralleled by our journey as a theatre company. The alchemist in our case was the author of the book."
Touring nationally (www.the-alchemist.info); Greenwich Theatre (020-8858 7755) from 23 MarchReuse content