Robert Gray has a nice column about theatrical adaptations of books at his blog Fresh Eyes Now (originally from Shelf Awareness). Adapting a book for the stage (or film or TV now) is obviously a delicate task. Slightly unkindly Max Beerbohm said this problem was solved by George Bernard Shaw by simply turning his tracts into dialog, and getting his characters to read out the “book” on stage. Henry James (like Dickens) strove for stage success and it eluded his grasp, yet The Turn of the Screw makes a great opera, and has been filmed several times. Others of his books which have been made into films are The Bostonians, Daisy Miller, The Europeans, The Golden Bowl, Washington Square, The Portrait of a Lady, What Maisie Knew, and The Wings of the Dove. The Green Room is based on three James stories. Would knowing this help him overcome the disappointment of his play Guy Domville which never took off on the stage and has yet to find Hollywood favor? You’d think Henry James’s style was about as far away from what’s needed for success in the cinema as it’s possible to get, yet good films have been made. It just shows that Hollywood can afford any kind of conversion work and has writers who can play with the most rebarbative text.
Here’s news from The Independent of the BBC’s new 12-part radio adaptation of War and Peace. I am not quite sure why we should be surprised there are to be cuts. If there are to be 12 parts, each would have to be a couple of days long if the whole thing was to be included. A Waste of Time by Robert David MacDonald (1980) was an adaptation and extreme abbreviation of A la recherche du temps perdu, played in one evening. Of course I don’t know whether there were theatre-goers back then who complained that they didn’t have to stay in their seats for a couple of weeks on end.
So why not just cut out the book stage altogether? I’ve not made a detailed comparison of Colm Tóibín’s The Testament of Mary and the play script brilliantly performed by Fiona Shaw a couple of years ago, but the text of the novella can’t be much longer (and different?) than the play. More recently Jeffrey Deaver’s audiobook The Starling Project has caused a bit of a stir, forgoing print form to go straight to full-cast audio. Apparently Audible plan about 30 of these performed audiobooks without any print versions (their site already reveals 820 hits for a search on “full cast”). Len Edgerly at The Kindle Chronicles has an interview with the author, from 26 December 2014, in which they discuss the project. A New York Times story about it can be found here. I would have bet there’d a print version of The Starling Project within the year. After all why not? If you can sell it to another slice of the market, why wouldn’t you do that? However I see no sign of it yet, ten months after publication. You’d have thought Deaver had print fans.