Adapt Or Die

The Arts

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Not everything can be turned into a brand. ‘Wolf Hall’ is next up for adaptation on stage and TV, and – please don’t let this be true – it’s rumoured that Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s company is planning to stage JK Rowling’s Harry Potter books – which would silt up the rest of London’s theatres for the next thirty years.

The other night I went to see the stage version of ‘Let The Right One In’ at the Apollo Theatre. John Ajvide Lindqvist wrote the screenplay for the Swedish film version and the US remake, and I can see what makes this such an astonishing story – it forces the reader/viewer to make a decision about the innocence of evil, and vice versa. Yes, it uses the idea of vampires but it is not trashy, and asks tough questions – what if you misinterpret the things you feel? Who are the victims and who the preyed upon? I loved the book. I liked both films. I did not enjoy the play. Why? Because it proved it had no reason to exist.

To be fair, the press have raved about the production, but friends whom I trust agreed with me. Why adapt at all if you don’t add something new?

The setting was shifted to Scotland (which made sense) and spent much time in the courtyard with the play frame and woods, plus there was an impressive but unnecessary practical swimming pool in the second half, and an obligatory snowfall.

The leads looked the wrong side of twenty, but no matter. The vampire girl Ely (Rebecca Benson) spoke in a peculiar bleating whinny throughout that defied you to believe Oscar would find her anything other than seriously annoying. She lacked the sinuous sensuality and bizarre stillness of the original. The bully-boys bullied Oscar incessantly, obviously, endlessly, and were despatched in a few seconds. Oscar’s vulnerability was only seen through his peers, and a sequence revealing his alienation with his father’s lover lacked impact. The thwarted vampire attacks tipped the whole thing into silent-movie grand guignol. But here was the clincher – this season’s grand cliche – the narrative was interrupted for bursts of interpretive mime and electronic thudding.

There’s no question that it’s a committed production with terrifically hardworking performers, the gory stuff was brilliantly done and I liked the stripping back of the plot. I’d thought at first that perhaps you simply couldn’t stage this sort of thing and make it believable, but the director must shoulder the blame for leaving watch-checking longeurs in the dialogue where there should have been tension. Why did it need adaptation? Because the book and the films were popular, and every success must now be multiple-platform-friendly. So, as the hit book becomes the TV series/ film/ musical/ T-shirt, we keep buying into familiarity. Meanwhile, ‘American Psycho’ and ‘Harry Potter’ and a dozen others are in the wings awaiting adaptation…

Hey, you may love it and I hope you do. Me, I’ll stick with the Swedish movie.

2 comments on “Adapt Or Die”

  1. Helen Martin says:

    It sounds like a Swedish movie. Where gore is concerned, a play should bring you right up into contact with the event because those are real people up there and that is “real” blood. If it doesn’t at least do that then they’ve failed no. one. Otherwise, it’s as you say, what is new in the interpretation? It’s like everything else, everyone wants a safe bet.

  2. snowy says:

    Don’t despair for ‘Wolf Hall’ too early, the actor playing Cromwell was on t’wireless last night and each play runs at a ‘bum-numbing’ 3 hours. Turns out it’s not new, but a transfer from the RSC. And at £11 a ticket seems quite the bargain.

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