I’m writing a play at the moment. It’s an adaptation of an old play. One written in 1890, in Norway. I’ve never written an adaptation before and I don’t really know what I’m doing. I think I’ve read about ten different versions of this play now, trying to figure out how other writers have done it.
Mostly it’s about my choice of words; how I decide to let these characters express themselves. It’s like having a very helpful co-writer. He’s dead now but he worked out most of the play before he went – I just have to fill in the gaps. Except at the moment the gaps are a blank word document that needs to be about one hundred pages of text.
The best parts are the bits that make sense in Norway but don’t make sense here. Or the bits that made sense in 1890, but don’t make sense now. That’s where the characters’ humanity comes in – to bridge the gap across language and continents and decades. That’s where I realise humans have basically reacted to the same things in the same ways for a really long time.
I have read one of the first English translations, but without learning Norwegian, I can’t read the original. So in one way I know this play better than any other. But in another way I’ve never read it at all.
Tonight I went to see a play written by an Iranian playwright and performed by an Australian actor. Mostly it was in English but partly it was in Farsi. At one point the playwright, who was also on stage, called his mum in Iran and they spoke in Farsi for a moment. In one way, we didn’t know exactly what they were saying, but in another way we did. A phone conversation between a mother and son, across continents and decades, transcending language.
If you spend too long around someone who works in theatre they’ll start chewing your ear off about the universality of storytelling. But what they mean is: we’re all human.
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