It’s been a while since I set my phone off spinning round and round until 20 mins and 15 seconds are up. But it’s been a busy few weeks. I’ve co-ordinated an event for Selby’s Little Fest of theatre, music and arts in the incredible Abbey featuring local groups. I’ve been doing some R&D with my friend Maddy Shann on a piece we might develop in the future. And I’ve been busy turning my acoustic side project, Pewter City Punk, into a full band!
But we must forge ahead with the project for the year. Namely, to write a blog post in 20 mins and 15 seconds. We’re off!
This blog is about adaptations. Over the past year, I have adapted A Midsummer Night’s Dream for Harrogate Theatre to be used for a range of ages roughly 6-11 in Youth Theatre and school’s outreach projects. I have also adapted the classic tale of The Circle of Chalk (as retold by Brecht) for York Youth Theatre’s 16+ group which was performed at the end of last year. Now I’ve sent off my final draft to Harrogate Theatre, an adaptation of the classic Robin Hood tale.
Adaptations can be incredible retelling of stories. I saw a stream of the NTs Treasure Island written by Bryony Lavery. I thought it was a really gripping action adventure. Maybe a tad gory for the target audience it intended, but still a visceral retelling that gripped me. Some adaptations get the story to a wider audience, Tom Morris and Emma Rice’s Night’s At The Circus for Kneehigh was the first time I’ve experienced Angela Carter, now one of my fav writers. Mike Kenny’s adaptations for York Theatre Royal, Tutti Frutti or Hiccup Theatre are always rich with a joyous insight into the original.
Adaptations have to be both faithful and fresh. Just as film is not theatre, theatre is not a book. Theatre is a live experience condensed into a relatively small pocket of time. But it must also be faithful, else why not repackage the story as something entirely new?
From an artistic perspective, there’s the pull between the context of the original text, and trying to find the ‘hook’ for the modern day. Shakespeare is often easy, as a humanist his plays often have recognisable characters falling in love, being ambitious or being trapped.
Whenever I’m playing with an original idea, I like to jot down over a few days all my thoughts with purely the context I bring to the paper. Circle of Chalk is swished around my memory of seeing it previously at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. All my initial ideas of Brecht ideas. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, I rifled through my memory for all those key moments that stand out without a re-reading of the play.
Then I take time to dive deeper, read around the story. Read the liner notes, read up online, take out some books, try and really sink deep and see if there’s an interpretation I’ve missed.
By putting these two contrasting styles alongside each other, you start to find your own voice between the lines. For Who Shot The Sherriff, my mind flashed Marian as being a tough fighter, not unlike the TV show from my childhood. Of course, upon doing my research and reading other books I realised how she’s traditionally portrayed as being an aristocratic woman. So my version had her being forced to learn the rules of civilised society despite her best interests. I knew there needed to be a fight scene, but only after re-watching the classic Errol Fyn sword-fights did I realised how this can be scripted, and kinda parodied.
My version of Robin Hood and his Merry Men are more merry kids. They are still teenagers, played by members of Harrogate Theatre Youth Theatre. To that end, they have the energy and bravery of young people. They are told they are dirty, rude and intolerable. They get told off, caught and are fought.
If my Robin Hood and his merry men were, in fact, merry men I think it would be tonally darker. It wouldn’t be a cruel angst-driven piece, but more would be at stake. Breaking laws would have more severe consequences. Who Shot The Sherriff is a bit farcical, a bit slapstick, a bit manic. There’s the threat of death hinted, but it’s more for a summer show of swords and swordplay. I felt this came out from the characters being so young and vim-filled.
However, that’s not the say the play is a watered-down Panto. From the 21st century lens, why are these kids keen to become knights or outlaws? Who are their role-models? Why can the Sherriff bully them around? These thoughts bounced around my skull like an arrow flying off the walls.
So I realised (partly though a spot of Prince of Thieves viewing) that the adults had gone off East to fight the crusades, not unlike our day and age where soldiers are sent abroad in government’s wars. This left a power vacuum for men like the Sherriff to take power, and young boys and girls eager to fill their shoes.
I’m not saying it’s the most political piece I’ve written, certainly not compared to The Circle of Chalk which has a lot of my perceptions on nationality, nation and borders. But I think they exploring various perceptions on an original text, while keeping the energy of a traditional action-adventure can take a different turn when not throwing it into the deep waters of 2015, but letting it paddle around in a few different ponds of possibility.
Catch Who Shot The Sherriff at Harrogate’s main stage this summer, tickets here