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Beyond The Book 
 
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Adaptation
 
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Script: Will Meets Iorek
 
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Adapting The Novels
 
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Nicholas Wright: Will Meets Iorek
 
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Philip Pullman On Script
 
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Novel As Drama
 

 
 

Adaptation

When Philip Pullman was writing his trilogy he wasn’t thinking of it as a future stage play, or as a film, though Tom Stoppard has now written a screenplay. Nor did Pullman harbour an ambition to translate his work into dramatic performance himself; he remains a novelist not an aspiring playwright. To make the experience of the audience as satisfying and engaging as the experience of the reader requires skills that are different from those of a novelist.

New works in their own right

Nicholas Wright’s two plays are parallel texts with the three books on which they are based, intimately connected to the novels but deserving of attention in their own right and in their own terms. The adaptation has to balance the spoken text with the visual content; we go to see a play, not just to hear it. Audiences hear words spoken in performance at a slower pace than that at which most of us read them. The sheer number of words required to construct meanings in an adaptation for performance is therefore considerably less than that employed in the original work of fiction.

What is not said

The playwright knows that a good actor, working with a good text, can show an audience as much through what is not said as by speaking aloud. Emotion can be conveyed expressively through gesture and silence. For example, a conversation between two actors, in which one speaks whilst the other reacts is understood by an audience that is listening and watching.

Decisions, decisions

In Shakespeare's Hamlet there is a scene in which Polonius gives his daughter Ophelia instructions to wait for Hamlet. Polonius and King Claudius then conceal themselves behind a curtain in order to observe them. Hamlet arrives, discovers Ophelia, and the famous ‘get thee to a nunnery’ encounter begins. However, in rehearsal a decision will have to be made: does Hamlet realise that he is being overheard? And if he does realise, what effect does it have on him? The decision is key to how the actors play the subsequent performance. Language is spoken and heard in context: in a novel that context is supplied through descriptive prose and the imagination of the reader; in performance it doesn’t require description, it can have an actual physical realisation. On the huge Olivier stage, with the aid of all the technology available, the novels' locations, and there are many of them, have a real presence and achieve a visceral and immediate effect requiring no words all.

 

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