Her style has also been defined by the exigencies of adapting sprawling literary epics for the stage. “If I’m doing an adaptation,” she says, “and I have to have the Battle of Borodino in the middle of it, or somebody has to die in a flood, that pushes me to be more daring and more theatrical.” For Edmundson’s first adaptation, Anna Karenina in 1992, Nancy Meckler told her to “think about how I would do it if I were doing an opera or a ballet. To free myself from naturalism and go somewhere beyond that.” She hasn’t looked back since, she adds.
There are those, however, who turn their noses up at literary adaptations. Who believe that the novel (an interior, psychological medium) and the theatre (an external, dramatic medium) are incompatible, and that a staged novel can never be more than a compromised version of its source. Edmundson gives this school of theatrical thought predictably short shrift. “These days we make very strong distinctions between adaptations and original work. But they’re all plays, and they all have to tell the audience a story with a particular voice behind it. Shakespeare plundered other people’s stories shamelessly. And people didn’t say, ‘That’s not a play, it’s an adaptation’.”
Monday, October 23, 2006
Playwright Helen Edmundson tells Brian Logan in The Times why she has become master of the adaptation.