Hello, reader! Got any exciting plans for your weekend?
Last night I went to see Headlong’s production of 1984 at the Almeida Theatre in Islington. The performances were excellent, the design was incredibly inventive and the concept was inspired. I won’t say anymore in case you’re planning to see it for yourself, and I really think that you should go if you get the chance.
It’s difficult to make an excellent adaptation of a novel like 1984 for two reasons: firstly, the concept of the novel itself is pretty complex, and pinning down the issues of mind control, sanity, truth and fiction are hard to do off the page. Secondly, the novel is a well-loved and respected work that many people feel strongly about. If Headlong had got it wrong, they would have been unpersoned by the critics.
An adaptation of any beloved work of fiction runs the same risk. The Harry Potter films came under massive fire (just from my social circle) for being completely unfaithful to the books, and reducing cleverly constructed plot lines to unsteady, baffling narrative turns. There were also many debates about the casting: Emma Watson was too posh (and WAY too fond of acting with her eyebrows), Daniel Radcliffe wasn’t likeable enough, and Dobby was an atrocity.
People are already up in arms about the potential casting of Harry Styles in a movie adaptation of Wicked, but I wonder how many of them know that the musical stage production is already an adaptation of a novel. The novel is completely different in tone to the musical, and when I read it for the first time I wondered who on earth would read this dark, disturbing story and think “Well, that’s got singing and dancing written all over it.” Don’t get me wrong: I saw the musical a few years ago and loved it, but in my head it isn’t an adaptation of the novel in the traditional sense. It’s just too different.
And this is the interesting thing: what is it about adaptations that provokes such strong reactions in us? When we read a book we get a unique picture in our minds of the characters, the settings and the story, which have been guided by the author but not prescribed. When we see an adaptation of a novel on screen or stage,the directors have had to try and compile every reader’s mental picture into a universal picture that cannot possibly match up to everyone’s expectations.
Is it better to take a well-known story and try to match it exactly to its original medium, like William Goldman managed with his adaptation of the The Princess Bride? (Although he had a significant advantage, given that he was adapting his own novel.) Or is it best to recognise that one medium cannot possibly imitate another – which is why they all exist, in fact – and that an adaptation has to be a kind of translation of a piece in order to make it work? Wicked in its original essence would not make a good musical; it’s too depressing (but brilliant, by the way). It needed to be translated into the kind of story that works in the West End with big sets and even bigger smiles, and it is a good show. It’s just not a faithful adaptation.
I think that part of the issue is the cashmere-wearing, cigar-smoking, bling-adorned elephant in the room: we can all see that making successful novels and plays into films is about making money, not about making the piece accessible to more people. It’s the reason that The Hobbit is being strangled to death by a painfully laboured and ridiculously patch-worked adaptation into three epically long films. Shame on you, Peter Jackson. Shame on you.
In general, I do approve of adaptations. I like seeing other people’s ideas of a well-known story shown in new ways, and I enjoy the possibilities of a translation from medium to medium. I just wish that the motive was always the exploration of worlds, not the expansion of wallets.
Have the most awesome of Fridays.