‘Starter For 10, Film That Launched Star Careers, Being Adapted As Stage Musical

EXCLUSIVE: The 2006 film Starter for 10, which helped launch the big-screen careers of James McAvoy, Benedict Cumberbatch, Rebecca Hall, Dominic Cooper and James Corden, is being developed into a stage musical.

The show, based on David Nicholls 2003 novel and director Tom Vaughan’s HBO/Playtone movie, will have its world premiere at the Bristol Old Vic in February.

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“The film launched the careers of so many young actors, and we hope the musical will do the same,” producer Emma Hall told us.

London-based Hall revealed that Rebecca Hall “is my big sister, so she is just totally thrilled about this. This film, this book has a very special place in her heart.”

The story set in 1985 follows working-class freshman Brian Jackson, the part played by McAvoy in the film, as he begins his student days at Bristol University. 

Brian’s dream is to win a place on his college University Challenge team while also coping with attention from two potential lovers.

University Challenge is a beloved show, never more so than when its quizmaster was Bamber Gascogne. He hosted the program for 25 years. His famous catchphrase as he opened a round of questions was “Fingers on buzzers — your starter for 10.”

RELATED: Bamber Gascoigne Dies: Much-Loved ‘University Challenge’ Debut Host Was 87

The expression remains popular even with those who have never watched the TV show.

Punk rock composers Tom Rasmussen and Hatty Carman will write the ’80s-inspired score and lyrics. Emma Hall and Charlie Parham will pen book and lyrics. Parham (Full English, Greatest Days) will direct the show in Bristol ahead of a hoped-for transfer to the West End. 

Hall said that the original songs are inspired by the sound of the time in homage to the likes of Kate Bush, The Cure and Pet Shop Boys. “The songs will remind audiences of the songs of that era,” Hall noted.

Both Hall and Parham read Nicholls’ book when they were at Cambridge. “We didn’t make the University Challenge team, sadly.”

Yes, the tale’s about going to university, but Hall emphasized that it’s not only for people who went to such temples of higher learning. “It’s about that time in your life – young adulthood when you’re desperate to reinvent yourself and don’t quite know who you’re going to be, and anything feels possible,” she said.

“You’ve got this raucous, bombastic student world of the ’80s, and then you’ve got this quite joyful, charming but quite eccentric world of University Challenge, and the combination of the two is irresistible,” she added.

Casting hasn’t started yet, but one key role will be that of Bamber Gascogne, portrayed by Mark Gatiss in the movie.

“Bamber Gascoigne is our showman, he’s our Billy Flynn,” Hall declared with a reference to the lawyer in the musical Chicago, who was ace at razzamatazz.

Starter for 10 will run at the Bristol Old Vic from February 29-March 30. It’s part of the celebrated theater’s inaugural season of new artistic director Nancy Medina.

Producers are Hall and Parham’s Antic Productions, Bristol Old Vic, Longshot Films and Playtone.

Playtone produced the film version with Neal Street Productions.

Neal Street is not involved with the stage production. “We have their blessing, and everyone is just thrilled this is happening,” said Hall.

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