FESTIVAL THEATRE | Adaptations
The Black Cat
If The Black Cat uses techniques from improvisation, Theatre ad Ini nitum apply Lecoq physical theatre to Homer’s epic poem The Odyssey, while playwright Annie Lux, director Lee Costello, and actress Margot Avery were inspired to develop The Portable Dorothy Parker by an edition of the waspish writer’s selected works. Its editing and publication becomes the platform upon which they explore her life, writing and, of course, famous quips. ‘We open the show with Mrs Parker at her venomous best, tongue sharpened to a point,’ they explain. ‘We also used Mrs Parker’s most famous lines as the i rst of her works to be quoted: “Men seldom make passes / At girls who wear glasses”.’ But from this introduction, the production delves into her life, revealing a more sympathetic and complicated individual. Once again, the shift from adaptation as simple retelling to an interpretation of the text offers a rich and intriguing theatricality.
While he talks of adding ‘a dark hilarity’ to his One-Man Apocalypse Now, Chris Davis explains that ‘the idea of performing a movie like Apocalypse Now with one person is silly. That’s a given.’ Yet he uses the source to expose how art and reality often interweave. ‘At times it is a faithful adaptation, but then veers off into my own personal history,’ he says. By taking such an iconic i lm, Davis is able to comment on his own life. ‘Audiences laugh a lot. However, underneath the laughter is a sadness that deals with my relationship with my father. Fortunately, these themes are also found in the actual movie, specii cally between Martin Sheen and Marlon Brando.’ Other approaches revitalise novels in the light of contemporary concerns. Elton Townend Jones admits that the impetus to adapt science i ction classic The Time Machine came from pondering the Brexit referendum result and the Trump election, ‘all of which I knew, as the play’s author, were going to happen’. Picking up on HG Wells’ interest in social Darwinism and the potential collapse of civilisation predicted in the novel, Townend Jones recognises theatre as ‘the perfect platform for storytelling that is personal and intimate, exciting and exhilarating, emotional and intellectual, but also capable of
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investigating contemporarily relevant themes of politics and philosophy without getting too partisan.’ This Time Macine asks questions not of Wells’ Victorian sensibilities, but whether society – and its anxiety about change – has developed in the past century.
Townend Jones makes a strong argument that adaptation – something that his company, Dyad, has majored in throughout their nine years of creativity – enables a level of engagement that is often associated with contemporary, issue-based writing. ‘The themes in the book and perhaps even more so in the play are incredibly relevant to our current situation in the west,’ he concludes. ‘We hope that these themes will resonate with how we engage with the world; what it is we put into the world to make it a better place for not only ourselves and those we love but those we don’t know.’
It is this kind of vision that drives successful adaptation: the same kind of desire to communicate that drives most successful art. At its best, adaptations perform the same function as new work, interpretations of classic scripts and devised performance, and the familiar material is merely another aspect of a comprehensive and intelligent approach to theatre-making and the public discussions of important ideas.
The Black Cat, Underbelly Cowgate, 5–20 Aug, 7.20pm (also Underbelly Med Quad, 13 Aug, 1.15pm), £10–£11 (£9–£10). Previews 3 & 4 Aug, £6.50. Odyssey, Pleasance Dome, 5–28 Aug (not 9, 15, 22), 1.15pm, £10.50–£12.50 (£9–£11). Previews 2–4 Aug, £7.50.
The Portable Dorothy Parker, Gilded Balloon at Rose Theatre, 5–28 Aug (not 14, 21), 4pm, £11–£12 (£10–£11). Previews 2–4 Aug, £6.
One-Man Apocalypse Now, Sweet Grassmarket, 3–27 Aug, 4.20pm, £8 (£6). The Time Machine, Assembly Roxy, 5–28 Aug (not 15), 11.10am, £12–£13 (£11–£12). Previews 3 & 4 Aug, £8.
The Time Machine