Adaptations From The Point of View of a Drama Student

Edward Ramsey

With the rehash after rehash of the Disney Corporation, and all the other rebrandings and crazy adaptations happening in a collage of grotesque parodistical Hollywood writing rooms. I have but one question for the beloved industry: what happened to all the writers?

I don't want to get too deep into this one, but I do want to get it across to you guys how, when you stand back and examine this thing with some objectivity, it really makes no sense. I mean sure, re-interpretations of things occur across the board and often in very interesting and enjoyable ways, and that is not what I'm arguing against. But lines surely have to be drawn somewhere. Usually, and I'm not in any way trying to cause any insult so please don't anyone take this the wrong way, it's filmmakers or TV writers who have so much of an agenda that they have to put it into their writing, but instead of using their ideas and opinions to create something innovative and new, they use them to exploit to an almost tortured extent the creations of others which often are already innovative and new. And usually, again here me out, it just so happens to be something which happens with the promotion of feminism and Gay Pride. 

Russell T Davies' A Midsummer Night's Dream for example, which I have already written about. And the newly announced re-make of Oceans Eleven, which ironically is titled Oceans Eight. Ironic because their presumably feminist point is undercut by the fact that there are eight now instead of eleven- or maybe it's enhanced I don't know and I don't really care. What's more, there are (though very vague and probably all untruthful) rumours of a female James Bond. It would almost be worthy of a joke if it weren't an actual thing some people want to happen.

Respect for the integrity of a writer and his work is actually only one of the reasons I don't like these changes. There are in fact two more. The first is simply that in many ways, making changes such as these are just too silly and alter the whole effect, mood, theme and message of a piece. Whether it's a Shakespeare play being ruined or a classic movie being undermined, it just seems wrong. And the other is this, if you want to make a statement with a movie, play, TV show or whatever it is, there's a far better and more admirable way of doing it: by writing something new. If you want to explore the difficulties and emotional or physical standoffs in the life of a homosexual for example, write a powerful piece of theatre about it like modern theatre groups do. Don't screw up the work of someone else who was most likely trying to do something totally different. 

In an article written for The Times on Thursday, columnist David Aaronovitch claims it is "absurd to insist on realistic casting in theatre. This is where we suspend our disbelief..." And then goes on to make a different point, presenting the latter as proof of the former. I have a couple of problems with this. Firstly, our columnist has made the common mistake of assuming that 'buying' whatever is on stage is the same as believing it. And the second is this: It is not the duty of the audience to suspend disbelief, that I'm afraid, is the duty of the play. It is the duty of the playwright, the director, the actors, the tech crew- the list could go on. But it is not the duty of the audience to say "oh well, if we can believe Harry Potter we can believe a female King Lear." No, audience, be assertive, if you didn't believe it, say so. Because that is your right. Too often people mistake fantasy or overly dramatic situations as being the opposite of realism. When in fact, it is reality which is the opposing word. A play or film can be fantastical and adhere to realism, just as a play can be down to earth and not be believable at all. I actually think that if an audience is having to actively 'suspend their disbelief' then whatever they are watching, to a certain extent, has failed. Realism, if that's what's intended, needs to be indirect, it needs to just happen in the background, without conscious thought from anyone observing the action on a stage. 

Going back to my earlier point, Aaronovitch correctly alerts our attention to the fact that if we examine theatrical history there are fewer parts written for coloured people, or women in some cases than perhaps is fair (although for Shakespeare this isn't the case- for either). However, the solution is not to 'correct' esteemed and already powerful pieces in their own right, the solution is to create. Create create create create create create. I'll even offer some helpful advice- writers! We love to create. 

In the case of West Side Story (to which Aaronovitch also refers), I would make two points. The first is that they don't call it Romeo and Juliet, because it isn't, it's West Side Story. So there is less of an argument to be made for it not being true to the text (although it is true to the story). And the second is that it's by anyone's standards a brilliant film and musical. So in that sense it has justified itself. Similar to Maxine Peake's Hamlet, the main reason I supported the whole thing is because (though I didn't get to see it) it had raving reviews, and none of which suggested the positive reaction was purely a response to what is inherently, whether justly or not, a gimmick. It was reaction to a very successful performance. So the adaptation is at least somewhat self-justified. And in a sense, genders can be forgotten. 

Moving back towards film. I am in support of Idris Elba for James Bond, because despite the fact that some would argue Bond would have had to be white; I think it doesn't affect the movies and books all that much to have a coloured man play Bond, because to say Bond's character traits are 'white' is to anyone's ears racist. However, to say his character traits are 'male' is not sexist. They just are, you see what I mean when I talk about a line being drawn? But we wouldn't have a white guy play Django would we? Because that absolutely would affect the story, and for the worse too, just as most re-genderings would. And when I say re-gendering I mean the actual changing of a characters gender, not simply having a woman play a man or vice-versa. 

So to all people (probably producers) in Hollywood or otherwise who think this type of stuff is necessary, I say this: you have writers! Please stop neglecting them! After all, writers love attention, it's in our nature. 


Edward is a drama student from the United Kingdom. Twitter: @Edward__Ramsey (yes, that is two underscores)