The characters created by artist and playwright John Byrne and their adventures in a fictional Scottish coastal town would appear in a children’s book.
Now, a decade later, Donald and Benoit are to be turned into a family show – having been adapted by Byrne and his wife, Jeanine, a great theatre-maker, at their Edinburgh home for the past year.
The pair have written new songs with composer Ben Occhipinti for the musical theater play, which will premiere as an audio drama in the run-up to Christmas.
The expanded screenplay of the 2011 book will feature nods to some of John Byrne’s best-known works, including The Slab Boys and Tutti Frutti.
It is hoped that the unlikely friendship between a young boy and his cat will be played out for Pitlochry audiences in the near future.
Connor Goring, who starred in the open-air production of Wind in the Willows in Pitlochry this summer, Taggart favourite, Colin McCredie, Glasgow Girls’ Patricia Panther, Still Game’s Gavin Mitchell, Shetland and Outlander’s Kirsty Stuart and Bloodlands star Cara Kelly was cast as Donald and Benoit’s initial incarnation.
It will premiere on Sound Stage, the audio-video platform launched by Pitlochry Festival Theater during its Covid shutdown, from December 17-19.
Partly inspired by the impact of the fishing industry on the environment in North East Scotland, Donald and Benoit is set in a “world of magical realism” with talking dogs and cats.
Benoit’s fisherman father ends up disappearing at sea after being forced to head for deeper waters to try to make a living, while his mother dies. But as a growing bond develops with his mischievous feline friend, they meet the characters found at the local Dark Night of the Lemon Sole Cafe and the ranks of Fishertown band, The Dancing Devil Dogs.
John said: “Donald and Benoit is my first and only children’s book.
“The characters really got into my head. I had to make up a new story about them every night to read to Xavier and Honor to help them fall asleep.
“I had a lot of fun doing the original book. I wouldn’t have wanted to do it if I didn’t think it would.
“I never imagined the book would end up as a play. It surprised and amazed me.”
Jeanine said it wasn’t until they started adapting the book that she realized Donald and Benoit were actually based on Xavier and Honor, who are now 24.
She said: “I’ve been telling John for ages that I thought Donald and Benoit would put on a great show on stage and finally he said ‘go for it’.
“I would write a scene or scenes, which we would then read together and talk about, so it was quite fun to adapt.
“The book is very much a coffee table book, so the story had to be really expanded, with a lot of different characters.
“I wanted it to really resonate with John’s life and career, so there are nods to Tutti Frutti and The Slab Boys.
“I hope it’s going to be really great fun, really joyful and lots of dancing and singing and lots of fun and silliness.
“I just want it to be really joyful, which I think is what we all need right now.”