Any adaptation has the capacity to please or annoy in equal measure. After all, you can’t keep everybody happy. Room With a View is a pretty awesome adaptation of Forster and keeps very close to the text. Wuthering Heights not so much, in that it’s only half the novel. The Shining changes many things, especially Jack Torrance’s character. But what about plays? They, after all, are adaptations of the script. I have argued for years that a script, no matter how precious, is no more than a set of instructions and suggestions. A bit of a plan. A working idea. They are certainly not for sitting down and reading. (Although my university lecturers on Shakespeare remain unconvinced. They are wrong.) But how far should you go? West Side Story is Romeo and Juliet and, most people would agree, that is a storming success. The Forbidden Planet is based on The Tempest though you could be forgiven for not noticing. My Own Private Idaho loosely based on the Henry plays.
Which brings me to the latest production from Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre. Midsummer Night’s Dream, directed by Robert Hastie with music by The Feeling’s Dan Gillespie Sells, following on fast from his rather brilliant work on Everbody’s Talking about Jamie.
Now, I knew that there was music in this production and, at the beginning, I enjoyed the magical forest mood created by those tinkling ivories. It didn’t stop there though, the musical involvement slowly increased and, by the end, as the mechanicals acted out my favourite part, the Pyramus and Thisbe story, it became a full-on, glam rock musical extravaganza. The audience roared with laughter and clapped in time while I sat with a face like a slapped arse doing my very best Victor Meldrew impression. I mean, what the hell were they thinking? The badly-acted play within a play, although ridiculous, always manages to utterly destroy the audience emotionally. It is heartbreaking. Much better than Bill’s other famous effort of star-crossed lovers who manage to reconcile their warring families only by their own destruction. Much better.
But was I right to be offended? I mean, nine hundred and seventy eight other people had the time of their life (there was a miserable critic from Barnsley who agreed with me). Who am I to complain about people enjoying themselves or a production company bringing Shakespeare to a new audience?
I guess the answer is in the word ‘audience’, it’s all about audience and purpose. And getting your promotion right. You see, the picture above, of the set, is just about identical to the posters advertising the play. Now, I’m no expert set designer but the minimal set depicted here suggests taste and seriousness to me. The poster also mentioned a song but many of Shakespeare’s plays have songs in them; Twelfth Night is riddled with them. But at no point was it made clear that this would stray so far from expectations. Maybe I missed something. But if the promotion had stated that there would be a steep descent into full-on musical theatre, then I would not have gone.
I know, miserable bastard.
This is not meant to be a blog where I review plays. However, in my criticism of this play, I could be accused of hypocrisy (it wouldn’t be the first time and it definitely won’t be the last) as I have sat through and enjoyed Shakespeare plays in modern dress. I’ve acted in modern dress Shakespeare. And I think nothing of cutting, editing or even changing the odd word or phrase for clarity. I’m sure that this behaviour would irritate some. But I still argue that it is all about stating your intention. If there’s a production of Hamlet and its running time is two and a half hours then you know damn well that it’s been cut. If there’s a poster for Julius Caesar and the cast are all wearing Nazi uniforms then you know it’s not traditional dress.
This all makes me think about the expectations that I set up in my own writing. The reader has to have trust in the author and the writer betrays that trust at his or her peril. I remember just after the huge success of the Twilight novels, every other new novel came in a black cover with a red rose or red lips. I would hazard a guess that most of those fell by the wayside. It’s cheap and insulting. But I imagine that it turns a quick buck for unsavoury or cynical publishers. For my own part, I have managed to misguide a group of people totally by accident. Some years ago I threw a few quid at Facebook advertising to promote my kindle novel Last Day of My Life. It was money wasted as I think the adverts only showed up in India. The novel has over twelve hundred likes, the vast majority coming from that part of the world. No sales and the number of likes is in constant flux. They clearly think it is something it isn’t. I would guess that most of those people are hacked off at me and will presume I’ve done whatever I did on purpose.
Conscious that there are very few pictures on here so there’s a lovely gin lady that I found in Menorca. Just beneath the banner photo at the top of the page.
Some time ago I read a half decent science fiction novel that was free on kindle. At the end of the novel the story was unresolved but was one hell of a hook. There was an advert that said something along the lines of ‘pay just one pound to find out what happens’. I was curious enough and paid my pound. The second novel was around thirty thousand words (less than half a novel for those who don’t know) and pulled the exact same trick. This time though it was two quid. I didn’t buy it and wouldn’t read any more of his stuff even if it was free. That’s what I meant by ‘at his or her peril’.
So, if anyone can think of why Last Day got confused (there is another book of the same title, about suicide, but I’m not sure it’s that) get yourself over to my website where you will find a link to the book, along with another one, on Amazon. They’re both light hearted romantic thrillers.
See you in November!