Nick Ahad admits that he didn’t fully appreciate the enormity of the task when he accepted the task of adapting the best-seller, The Boy at the Back of the Class for the stage.

An author and playwright, journalist and arts presenter - most notably of Radio Four’s Front Row - Nick is vastly experienced in the worlds of literature and theatre but his work on the multi-award winning novel has left him amazed at the response.

The Boy at the Back of the Class comes to The Lowry next week as part of a world premier tour and young audiences are lapping it up.

The Bolton News: Zoe Zak, Farshid Rokey, Priya Davdra and Joe McNamara in The Boy at the Back of the Class

“I knew it was popular but kids absolutely adore this book,” said Nick. “In a way I’m glad I didn’t realise that until I was quite a long way down the track with adapting it. I knew it was a best-seller but I hadn’t really equated that with it being the favourite book of so many nine year olds.

“Remember when you were a kid how much your favourite book meant to you? For thousands and thousand to say this is their favourite, that’s amazing.”

Written by Onjali Q Raúf, The Boy at the Back of the Class is the story of Ahmet, a newcomer to school who doesn’t speak and doesn’t smile. After learning that he has fled his own war-torn country, Ahmet’s classmates have The Greatest Idea in the World – a magnificent plan to reunite Ahmet with his family.

“In adapting the book there were a couple of big challenges,” said Nick. “In the book the gender of the narrator is not revealed until last page. Onjali was keen to keep that element nut it was just not really possible.

“So I decided it was important in the spirit of the book to at least keep the name a secret until the end.

“Also Ahmed doesn’t speak English so that was another challenge.

“I just had to think ‘what are the important things to a kid in this story?’ It was a question of stripping back everything and thinking what are the big beats that I have to make sure happen.

“There’s an adventure to Buckingham Palace which we had to make sure that happens on stage, there’s a big fight and a hunt for pomegranate and and I had to get a football match in there too!”

Nick spent around two years working on the adaptation sending drafts to the show’s artistic director who would offer their suggestions.

“It was a lovely way of working,” he said. “By the time I handed the script to director Monique Touko it was almost a case of ‘over to you’. We collaborated very well from the start.”

It’s one thing to write your own book or play but a totally different thing to adapt someone else’s work.

“You can’t be precious that’s for sure,” said Nick. “But then I’ve been a journalist for over 20 years so that teaches you not to be precious about your work. It will get changed.”

Even in rehearsals changes were still occurring.

“Why would you not use all the pieces at your disposal to make something as good as it can be?” said Nick. “If one of the cast had a suggestion we would listen and try it.

“On the posters it says adapted by Nick Ahad so if anyone had any great ideas I’m very happy to take credit for them,” he laughed.

Nick can pinpoint the exact moment that he realised just what an impact the play was going to have.

“We were five minutes into the first preview. I was sat with Onjali,” he said. “Bear in mind I’ve being writing plays for 10 years and reviewing them for 20 years so I knew that when something is good it gets a response.

“But I could not have predicted the response this would get. The kids were going bonkers. We just looked at each other wondering what on earth is going on here. It was like a pantomime, they were booing the baddies they were cheering Ahmet, they got it, they just understood. That was amazing.

“Another thing I had not quite fully grasped was when a letter came in from a one child who said it was the best thing they’d ever seen and that it would stick with them forever.

The Bolton News: Nick Ahad

“It hit me then that this play is The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe for me. Thirty-odd years ago I saw that at the theatre and I suddenly went ‘oh theatre’s magic. I love this’ and I’ve loved it ever since.

“To think that something you have help create has impacted children in this way - I was quite moved by that.”

The reaction to The Boy at the Back of the Class has made Nick think differently about his work.

“It’s been interesting,” he said. “The stuff I work on is often quite racially charged; it explores race and racism and I use lot of dark humour.

“But now I would love to do more for children. I still want to explore the things I do, but I never expected it to be so special and so rewarding to write for this audience. But they are about the most honest audience you can get.

“And surprisingly I really enjoyed adapting something. There was something about being presented with a completed work and thinking how do I use my craft to turn it so that it works on stage. I’m actually working on adapting another book for a family audience already.”

Nick is particularly pleased to see the adaptation heading to The Lowry.

“I went to see the Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler exhibition there over Christmas,” he said. “I was really excited to think that the play I had worked on would be staged at that wonderful building.

“When I present Front Row, I can see the Lowry from my studio. To know it’s coming there is a massive thrill.”

The Boy in the Back of the Class, The Lowry, Salford, Tuesday, March 26 to Saturday, March 30. Details from