Living legend

The Knights of the Round Table come alive in a new adaptation of Tankred Dorst‘s epic Merlin. Philip t Parr talks to Tom McGrath about i getting plays on stage and into print.

‘The Arthurian legends have been made into corny things.‘ says playwright Tom McGrath. ’You get images of Merlin with a long white beard



and so on. But once you go into them as a |

European phenomenon. they're fantastically rich and link together all sorts of peoples and


McGrath has just finished adapting German writer Tankred Dorst‘s Merlin for the Royal Lyceum Theatre Company. But this is much more than a run-of-the-mill tinkering with the original. for Dorst‘s play weighs in at a standard twelve hours, while McGrath himselfclaims to have seen a fifteen-hour version. It is surely expecting too l much, even of McGrath. to demand a comparatively bite-sized. three-hour adpatation.

’I heard Christopher Hampton talking about adaptation recently and he said that you have to i find a work that suits you before you can begin to adapt.‘ says McGrath. ‘I agree with that. I first read Merlin in the mid-80s at a time when the recession had really struck hard and everybody was pulling in their belts. It was just fantastic to read something that was such an outpouring of imagination. He wrote it at the suggestion of a German director called Peter Zadek who told him. "You're getting quieter and quieter I want you to ' get louder and louder.“ And he did: he really i bombarded the thing with his imagination.

‘One method I used to get it down to three hours was to turn some of the action into songs.‘ he continues. "That meant that we didn‘t have to cut elements out of the play we managed to keep different streams ofthe play going.‘

Changing much of the action to song (with the

A Tom McGrathzistage to page

w 7‘

‘You can build so much and see it disappear. That doesn’t happen it _ someone has the foresight to publish your I work.’

help of Glaswegian rock singer Carol Laula) has complemented McGrath's editing-out of large chunks of the play‘s more discursive scenes. However. the adapter is still loath to criticise the author for what many may see as superfluous waffle. "I'ankred Dorst doesn't stint and he doesn‘t cop out ofsomething because he thinks that it will be too intellectual for the audience or for the director and the actors; whereas in British theatre. there‘s a great fear ofthat most ofthe time. What I've done is move more towards the




theatrical a moment happens. and the mood of that moment spreads out theatrically. I leave out the after-event discussion. But one style is not better than the other it is an adaptation from a Germanic to a British theatrical idiom and it so happens that British theatre is much more active.‘ Merlin. as befits a play about a legend. is far from rooted in reality. In addition to the obvious mysticism of Merlin and the Arthurian court. i)orst injects some very surreal elements ranging from one of the knights reading the New York Times. to a visit frotn Mark Twain. to a letter from John and Yoko delivered to the court. ‘lt's set in a sliding time-zone.‘ explains McGrath. ‘and it does really extraordinary things to your mind. You get the feeling that it‘s not really about Arthurian legend at all but about something inside you.‘ McGrath‘s adaptation will be the first play to be published in a new magazine. Theatre Scotland which is appearing in April. co-edited by The List's own Mark Fisher. [t is. explains McGrath. something ofa departure to see the fruits of his labour appear in print. in Britain at least. ‘()ne of my plays. Animals has been published in Germany. but not here. And ifyou go to America. you‘ll see all of the libraries stacked with Scottish authors who haven't got a chance of being published in this country. ; ’People's memories are so short. During ' rehearsals of Merlin two students came to watch and one of them said to me “So where do you come from. you‘re not from around here?” It was clear she knew bugger-all about me and I suppose my pride and vanity took a bit ofa dent. But it was more the frustration that you can build so much and see it disappear. That doesn‘t happen if someone has the foresight to publish your work.‘

Merlin, Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh, Fri 3-Sat 18

Theatre Scotland is published with the text () f Merlin on Fri 3 Apr (price [2.50) and is available at the yearly .s'ttbseriptitm rate () f £1 3 from 9a Annantlale Street, Edinburgh E H 7 4A W.

A walk on the

Wilde side

Not content with jointly presiding over the Citizens’ recent trebling oi output, director Philip Prowse is iurther cornering the Glasgow market by moving into the Theatre Royal this iortnight. Oscar Wilde's A Woman oi No Importance, which Prowse also directed at the Citz in 1984, is his iirst production iorthe Royal Shakespeare Company and it has already earned him Olivier Award nominations tor his sumptuous period costume and set designs. ‘lt’s not only the older

members oi the audience who love to see those kind at costumes,’ says actor

1 Barbara Leigh-Hunt, ‘but also young : people, because they’re not used to seeing such beautiiully elaborate

costumes on stage. They take a lot oi wearing—although they look irothy and light, they weigh a tonne.’

Leigh-Hunt plays Lady Hunstanton in Wilde's society comedy, written exactly 100 years ago when it was given a iirst reading to actor-manager Herbert Beerbohm Tree in, appropriately enough, a Glasgow hotel room. All Wilde’s dazzling aphorisms are here, but they cushion a merciless critique oi the Ieisured classes and their mores. In his championing oi the cause oi women, both in their dominance oi the action and in many of their lines, Wilde was well ahead at his

time. ‘There are moments on the stage,’ says Leigh-Hunt, ‘when I almost have to pinch myseli, because some at the lines sound as though they were written this morning. Politics and women; women’s place in society, the way women are treated, I’m airaid it was ever that. He tends to write plays

with excellent parts iorwomen, so in

that sense he should be applauded by

any ieminists around.’

Klil'l‘ll HARDING

By the sound oi it, Prowse has made

‘the most oi a healthy RSC budget-set changes alone require up to ten

stage-hands—though the director has lost none at his enigmatic style. Greeting the company on the iirst day oi rehearsal with his standard disclaimer that ‘I don’t know anything about actors or the way that they work', Prowse only slowly developed a rapper? with them, butsomehow gotwhai he wanted. ‘I haVe a great respect and great atiection ior him,’ say- teigh-Hunt. ‘He can

upset people very easily because he doesn’ttemper his words, but the

overall eiiect is astonishing.’ (Mark Fisher)

A Woman at No Importance, Theatre Royal, Glasgow. Mon 6—Sat11 Apr. King’s Theatre, Edinburgh, Mon 13-Sat


The List 27 March 9 April 1992 39