ED2013 Columns ED2013 Theatre ED2013 Week3 Edition

Jack McNamara: Top Five films to never take to the stage

By | Published on Tuesday 20 August 2013

Jack McNamara

There are a number of plays on at the Fringe this year adapted from movies. One of the adaptations we tipped at the outset of the Festival, and which subsequently wowed our reviewer, is ‘The Boss Of It All’, a theatrical version of the Lars Von Trier film presented by New Perspectives. But are there any movies that should never be adapted for the stage? New Perspectives Artistic Director Jack McNamara can think of five…

This year I am at the Edinburgh Festival with my own stage adaptation of Lars Von Trier’s film ‘The Boss Of It All’. Stage adaptations are something I love to do, but also something I have mixed feelings about. Choosing the right thing to adapt is tricky.

Personally I’m not that interested in adapting films for the stage that already exist in perfect form onscreen, especially if it’s a really well known movie. A stage adaptation has to add something to the original, open it up in new ways. ‘The Boss Of It All’ is one of Von Trier’s least known films, and turning it into a play has (I hope) given it a new lease of life and expanded the original work.

There are a few films, however, that I really hope no theatre producers ever get their hands on. Here are my top five…

1. The Big Lebowski
Please don’t do it. The original casting is too good. The poor actors in any stage version would have to either impersonate the originals or find their own versions of them. But do we really need a new dude? I’m sure Mark Rylance would give it a good stab. Maybe Ricky Tomlinson as Walter? But I shudder to imagine the bowling-themed dance sequences already.

2. Psycho
‘Psycho’ began as an average novel, which Hitchcock turned into a pretty much perfect film. That’s the one metamorphosis this piece of work needed. All attempts to remake or continue ‘Psycho’ since have been pretty dire, so I imagine it wants to be left alone now. Douglas Gordon slowed it down to 24 hours, which worked, but only because we got a chance to be swallowed into the original images. Even though it would be a lighting designer’s dream, I do think the shower sequence has only one true form.

3. Anything by Quentin Tarantino
Tarantino’s first films were all very theatrical, often set in single locations and driven by dialogue. And they had characters in them with Shakespearean names like Marcellus. But do we want to hear the ‘Royale with cheese’ conversation onstage? Would we be charmed by the debate around the table about tipping? Tarantino’s language could outshine the gangster genre in the early nineties, but onstage I fear it might become its own tribute act.

4. Dogville
Lars Von Trier’s most obviously theatrical film. It is already ‘staged’ in the way its shot, with locations etched into the ground in white, so putting it onstage seems like a redundant exercise. Von Trier has already deconstructed the story. What’s left for a stage director to do? I suppose the only option would be to re-construct it, set it in the realistic locations the film doesn’t show. Problem is you might just end up with a really normal play based on a groundbreaking film.

5. Jaws
I would actually quite like to see the stage version of this. The obvious question would be, what to do about the shark? Would it be mechanised? Or a guy in a shark suit? Or maybe it could be expressed through film. Or sound. Or dance (please no). Maybe the answer would be to simply have no shark. The characters speak of a shark and yet we never see it. Maybe the shark is a state of mind. It is the shark in us all. I’m beginning to like this idea. Though I’m pretty sure people would ask for their money back.

‘The Boss Of It All’ was performed at Assembly Roxy at Edinburgh Festival 2013.

LINKS: www.newperspectives.co.uk

Photo: Tom Bateman