- Theatre and Adaptation: Return, Rewrite, Repeat ed. by Margherita Laera
Margherita Laera’s edited collection, Theatre and Adaptation: Return, Rewrite, Repeat, expands scholarly and practical discussions of theatrical adaptation with seventeen interviews with theatre makers from around the world who are engaged in various processes of adaptation. Each interviewee parses the meaning of “adaptation,” effectively unhinging the term from its most common definition, “a dramaturgical practice of turning … a novel into a play script” (2). Here the word is used to describe a range of theatre-making modalities, including puppetry, musical theatre, and devised theatre, all from European, Asian, African, and American cultural contexts. Divided into four parts, Laera’s book groups the interviews by their methodological focus and argumentative position.
Part one, “Return, Rewrite, Repeat,” comprises five revelatory interviews with artists whose work reinterprets canonical texts to discover new meanings. In the first interview, members of Handspring Puppet Company discuss in poignant [End Page 99] detail their use of puppets in Ubu and the Truth Commission, a production based on transcripts from the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission. For Handspring, the use of puppets allowed them to adapt apartheid victims’ testimonies for the stage through necessary mediation. In the second interview, Polish director Grzegorz Jarzyna discusses how his multimedia adaptation of Macbeth challenged the social taboos of 1990s Poland and the “embarrassment” he felt watching television clips of Poland joining the Iraq War (41). Next, Ivo van Hove, a Flemish director, offers a fascinating—if provocative—explanation for why he adapts films for the theatre: because he wants to stage themes that he “couldn’t find in plays,” such as immigration (51). For Hove, film-to-stage adaptation requires a rethinking of unities of time and place, because film scripts are often not unified in these ways. Daniel Veronese, a director-playwright from Argentina, creates “bastard theatre,” an approach to theatre making that mixes “genres, registers, forms, and even political positions” to radically transform plays by Chekhov and Ibsen (64). Veronese argues that adaptation is as much cross-generic as cross-cultural, an invigorating view that broadens the conversation surrounding adaptation in the United States in important ways. The final interview of part one is with Noh actor Udaka Michishige, who refers to his kind of adaptation as “remodeling” (82). Through the polishing of technique, Noh actors “remodel” the art form by making tiny changes to their movements—a view of adaptation that breaks open a historically rigid performance style. If such small changes seem meaningless, Michishige reminds us that, “for the expert audience, even a slight alternation [in the performance] can be revolutionary” (86).
Part two, “Defusing Tradition,” features a series of polemical interviews with artists who feel antagonistic toward their source texts. Romeo Castellucci describes his process of staging Shakespeare as “defusing Shakespeare’s text as if it were a bomb” (97). In the following interview, Julia Bardsley and Simon Vincenzi assert that canonized plays are mere “receptacles” through which “you can start to explore things you’re interested in” (111). Ki Catur “Benyek” Kuncoro, a practitioner of Javanese Wayang Kulit (shadow puppetry), explains how his pieces radically intervene with his sponsors’ visions of his work, even as he resigns himself to their wishes. The final interview of this section is with Lois Weaver, cofounder of the legendary feminist group Split Britches. Weaver sums up the group’s approach to adaptation as, “beg, borrow, and steal,” a methodology that was born out of 1970s queer culture wherein “it was all about appropriating popular culture” (137). Weaver argues that Split Britches’s adaptations of classics destabilized familiar gender roles and expressions of sexuality.
The three interviews comprising part three, “Intercultural Encounters,” take a more overtly political turn by exploring the complexities of theatre adaptations that cross national boundaries and the expectations of foreign audiences. The first (and particularly memorable) interview features the British and Zimbabwean founders of Two Gents Productions, who staged a little-known Ur-version of Hamlet. In [End Page 100] this earlier version, the famous “To be or not to...