Scene change: the problems with relocating plays

You never quite know where you are with a play these days. Of three French dramas that have recently opened in London by Jean Anouilh, Jean Genet and Florian Zeller two have been relocated to the US. Theatregoers can also find an Uncle Vanya in middle England, and a Dublin production of Patrick Marbers After Miss Julie that moves the action from England to Northern Ireland. The Truth, which has just opened at the Menier Chocolate Factory in London, is the third of Christopher Hamptons Zeller reworkings to be seen in the UK over the last 18 months. A dazzling, shape-shifting marital farce, it uses English language and accents but takes place around Paris, as does The Father, his unsettling presentation of Alzheimers disease, which is having another West End run ahead of a UK tour.

English accents but set in France Alexander Hanson( Michel) and Frances OConnor( Alice) in The Truth by Florian Zeller. Photo: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian
However, for
The Mother, lately considered at the Kilburn Tricycle, Hampton moved Zellers Parisian characters to London. As a outcome, a businessman has to trek for a meeting not to Dijon, which is presented in the French original as a dreary place that no one are truly want to visit, but to Leicester a city famed for crisps rather than mustard.( Some in the audience might object that Dijon FCO dont match the glamorous table-topping football of Leicester City .)

Taking a script on a trip in this way can make a local audience feeling more at home. But, as my colleague Helen Meany suggested in her its consideration of the Irish After Miss Julie, putting a play somewhere else on the map isnt as simple as changing the dialect and the landscape outside the window. There is an additional difficulty with Marbers play because his narrative has already travelled from the late 19 th-century Sweden of August Strindbergs Miss Julie to England on general election night in 1945.

Not as simple as changing the landscape outside the window Ciaran McMenamin and Lisa Dwyer Hogg in After Miss Julie by Patrick Marber. Photo: Ciaran Bagnall

This was a clever parallel because of a similarity in the stand-off between an entrenched upper-class and a restless proletariat in those places at those periods. But, although the author has approved the revivals further jumps across the Irish ocean, and to VE Day in 1945, the class, political and especially religious situations were significantly different in England and Northern Ireland at that period.

In the Donmars Welcome Home, Captain Fox !, also in London, Anthony Weigh retains the basic premise of Anouilhs Le Voyageur Sans Bagage an attempt to reunite an amnesiac soldier with his lost household from France 18 years after the first world war to the US at the same remove from the 1939 -4 5 conflict. The revised text is very clever and highly funny making this, with The Truth, a fine hour for French-derived farce in English theatre and is full of knowing nods to the Anouilh play, such as a couple of pretentiously Frenchified East Coast arrivistes, the Dupont-Duforts.

Clever and funny revised text, with a new US situate Fenella Woolgar( Valerie) and Rory Keenan( Gene) in Welcome Home, Captain Fox! Photo: Manuel Harlan

However, this translation also demonstrates that nations are not interchangeable. Weighs American soldier is an ex-POW who has been found in postwar East Germany not knowing who he is. As Welcome Home, Captain Fox! is situated during the cold war, Americans of that epoch might have worried that the homecoming hero had been indoctrinated by socialists, a period anxiety are incorporated into Richard Condons 1959 novel The Manchurian Candidate, which became a movie three years later.

This subtext, though, is scarcely present in the play because Weigh is accommodating a text set three decades earlier, in another culture. The problem is similar to the Northern Ireland-set Miss Julie: a novelist aiming to end up in 1950 s Long Island wouldnt have begun from 1930 s France, and so is always dragging unnecessary baggage.

Now set in the English countryside Vanessa Kirby( Elena ), Tobias Menzies( Michael ), Richard Lumsden( Cartwright) and Paul Rhys( John) in Uncle Vanya. Photo: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian

A contradictory combination of geographical autonomy with textual faithfulnes also causes a stumble in Robert Ickes otherwise superb version of Chekhovs Uncle Vanya at Londons Almeida. Icke has exported the source story from late 19 th-century Russia to the contemporary English countryside, and turned the character of Astrov, a country doctor, into Michael, a GP. However, because Icke devotes Michael Astrovs professional memories and anecdotes, he recounts journeying for hours between patients, and seems regularly to perform both major surgery and anaesthesia. In a present-day context, this medical workload is so unlikely that some members of the audience may suspect a satire on Jeremy Hunts indicated new working hours for NHS staff.

Among these country-jumping productions, the one that resolves most comfortably into its new territory is The Maids, a transportive adaptation of Jean Genets 1947 play by Benedict Andrews and Andrew Upton. Although the writers are based in Australia, this version of Genets savage slapstick about two maids who plot to kill their mistress has been changed from France to present-day America. Because director Jamie Lloyd has cast black actors, Uzo Aduba and Zawe Ashton, as employees of a white lady boss, played by Laura Carmichael, the imposed locale adds a racial subtext that deepens the play, while the religious references in Genets text are a matter of plausible for African Americans as for French characters in the respective periods.

Doubly site-specific Andrew Lancel as Brian Clough and Tony Bell as Peter Taylor in The Damned United at West Yorkshire Playhouse. Photo: Malcolm Johnson

Not all theatrical productions can be as free in their motions. With some plays, the subject matter acts as a satnav. For example, Anders Lustgartens highly entertaining adaptation for the Red Ladder company of David Peaces novel The Damned United is doubly site-specific. Dealing with Brian Cloughs spells as administrator at Derby County and Leeds United, it has to be set in the places where those football clubs are based and has been thematically scheduled for operates at both the West Yorkshire and Derby playhouses. Even more fixedly, Richard Bean The Nap, which opened at the Sheffield Crucible last week, is a slapstick about snooker that was written to be performed on the very stage where the World Snooker championships take place each year. The script is good enough to travel but could never be as perfectly positioned elsewhere. Sometimes plays need to know their place.

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