By Alice Evans
Plenty of plays are adapted for cinema. Les Miserable is perhaps the best recent example, making £300 million in its jump from ‘the boards’ to Hollywood’s boardwalks. But can a stage production adapted from a film be just as successful?
The first difficulty when moving from screen to stage is that stunt doubles cannot be used. This would make a theatre adaptation of the hysterical gun-shooting, bomb-exploding and car chasing of the Taken films pretty tricky, for example. Indeed, most action films would crumble in the theatre, much like the unsuccessful Spider Man: Turn of the Dark musical that was plagued with troubles on Broadway. It is problematic that a stunt-heavy main part would require the theatrical actor to either be trained up (costing money), or to already be able to perform the stunts (limiting the range of talent at auditions).
Fortunately for theatre, in recent years there has certainly been an increased demand for the autobiographical genre in the arts; indeed, over half of the films nominated for Best Picture for the 2015 Oscars are based on real lives (American Sniper, The Imitation Game, The Theory of Everything and Selma). This arguably alleviates the pressure for stunt doubles and elaborate action scenes on the stage.
On this theme, one of the most successful screen-to-stage adaptations is the romantic comedy Once. Despite the tiny budget of only €112,000 (with many scenes being filmed in friends’ houses in order to keep costs down), the story depicting what happens when “Guy” busker meets “Girl” Czech immigrant in Dublin was an instant success. In some ways, Once does parallel Glen Hansard’s and Markéta Irglová’s real lives – particularly the fleeting and failing romance – which perhaps adds to the allure.
The minimalist set in the Phoenix Theatre pays homage to the film’s small budget, although hiring Ronan Keating to play the lead role in London until the production closes on 21 March 2015 probably undermines the cutesy charm of the cheap set.
Returning to the issue of stunts, in Gurinder Chadha’s 2002 film of Bend It Like Beckham, Kiera Knightley developed all of the football skills herself, so that no doubles were required. I wonder how this will work in the musical, also directed by Chadha, opening in May 2015 in the West End. Nevertheless, I’m sure the vibrant Indian wedding will make for a colourful scene, and the intensity of the love angst between the two friends and their football coach will create a satisfying tonal contrast on stage; the film has sufficient theatrical potential that the difficulty of realistically portraying a skill on stage should be overcome.
Therefore, based on Once and Bend It Like Beckham, we can perhaps conclude that there is a definite recipe for success when transferring a film to stage: no need for stunt doubles, a simple and believable storyline with few characters, and a light-hearted love story. With this in mind, there is little doubt that the stage version of Frozen will be horrendously successfully in the near future…
Look out for ‘Into The Woods’, the Hild Bede Theatre musical showing in late February.
Screen or Stage?
I came away from a recent Broadway production of Les Miserables surprised to find myself feeling a little deflated. Don’t get me wrong: I had greatly enjoyed the show; at the same time however, I felt an uncomfortable nudging in my heart, and recognised it as the prodding finger of disappointment. I was astonished; I had waited all week for the show with bated breath. However I couldn’t but think ‘well it wasn’t like that in the film’.
Snapshots of comparison flashed in and out of my mind; I had thoroughly enjoyed my first Les Mis experience (the recent film which starring Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway) and so it was always going to be hard to beat. But I had assumed without any qualms, that the theatre would surpass it.
I began to wonder if my expectations had simply been unrealistic. Had I really expected to be able to see the anguished details of Fantine’s facial features when her hair is chopped off- (especially from my back row seat)? Had I really expected the stormy sea of the opening number to be just as realistic as that splendid scene in the film? In other words, have the leaps made by cinematography left the theatre miles behind, leaving it tarnished and tired?
Look how far T.V. and film has already come. Compare the original silent movies to the high quality musical films of present: Les Mis, Hairspray, even the popular phenomena: Glee and High School Musical, are testament to the success of the screen. After all, it lets people enjoy high quality musical shows from the comfort of their own home, bringing musicals to the masses. Entire commercial brands have been built off the back of these; I am yet to hear of any stage musical that has had quite such a rippling after-effect.
In spite of this, I believe the theatre still has something special to offer. It offers absolute bravery. During shows the cast only get one chance to stir up the hearts of the audience. To achieve this they must not fail to make themselves vulnerable; they have to give raw performances and bare everything. On the contrary, screen versions can silently sneak their way to success: scenes in which lines are forgotten can be retaken; songs can be re-recorded; and the cast don’t necessarily have to sing and dance at the same time. The theatre is a different matter altogether.
Plus, there is something about the ambiance of the theatre that will simply never lose its charm. With it comes a certain feeling of sophisticated dignity; a feeling of being ‘cultured’ and an excitement that the cinema just doesn’t quite provide.
Let’s face it; there will always be something magical about viewing the performance live. It’s like watching a rugby match: even though viewing it on screen provides you with a commentary, close ups and replays, there is just something that little extra special about actually seeing it in real-time. There is a certain empowerment that comes from hearing ‘Do you hear the people sing?’ sung out with such gusto right in front of you, that causes you to instinctively reply with a spine-tingling shiver- a response that may be forgotten pretty quickly, but will certainly never get old.
So next time I go to a West End show I will gorge on the authenticity of what is going on right in front of me.
Photography: Johan Persson.