Ahead of our online Playing with Prose workshops over 12-19 May, actor and workshop leader Jack Tarlton shares two new short plays created by students during previous sessions.

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Why adapt a book for the stage, and how do we adapt a book for the stage?

Reading a novel and watching an adaptation of that novel in the theatre are two very distinct experiences. The first is private, the reader using their own imagination fuelled by the writer’s words.

The second is communal and collaborative, with writers, directors and performers transforming the original text into a shared audience experience. Whether watching Paul Auster’s metaphysical neo-noir detective story City of Glass as a dazzlingly disorienting stage show at the Lyric Hammersmith, or seeing Leo Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilych brought to life in Wimbledon Library, these imaginative acts of adaptation make us respond in a variety of ways.

In mid-March 2020, I invited students to explore this process for themselves by  spending two days exploring the source material and playtexts of Jamilia Gavin’s Coram Boy, Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, City of Glass and The Death of Ivan Ilyich. These workshops drew on specially created interviews with the writers and directors involved and my own personal experience of performing in a number of the productions.

City of Glass. Photo credit: 59 Productions
Above: The Death of Ivan Ilyich. Photo credit: Claudia Marinaro

Inspired by the boldy different approaches that the creative team of each production took the students then wrote and performed two short adaptations of their own, using short stories they had been given in the workshops: Avril Joy’s Costa Award-winning tale of two teenage sisters, Millie and Bird, and Carys Davies’ study of a Quaker prison visitor’s growing understanding with an inmate, The Redemption of Galen Pike. In just a few hours, a couple of classrooms in Senate House were transformed into a suburban house and garden and a jailhouse in frontier America.

To try your hand at creating your own short play, join me for four days of free online workshops running between 12 and 19 May, open to all university students. We’ll explore ways of adapting novels for the stage as a group, after which participants will write their own plays based on short stories. On the final day, these plays will be performed by a group of actors, brought together from around the UK via Zoom.

The workshops are suitable for students from any discipline with an interest in creative writing, performance, presentation and language skills, and for those keen to explore ways of transforming ideas from one medium into another. They are free to attend but places are limited to 20 students, so booking in advance is essential.

Here are the two new plays created in March, reimagining the stories of Avril Joy and Carys Davies for performance – both fantastic examples of the range of work that can be produced during the workshops.

With special thanks to Avril Joy and Carys Davies for granting permission to publish these adaptations of their short stories.

Millie and Bird by Avril Joy, adapted by Anika Hossain, Lauren Waugh, Emma Anderson and Ivan Vlatkovic

The Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies, adapted by Lucy Doughty, Luciano Maggioni, Yifan Wu and Dominic Green