Actor, James Webster on the devising process…

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L to R Ellen Publicover, James Webster, Ashanti Wheeler | Photo Credit: Stephen Poole

What makes a successful adaptation?

For our theatre company Marvellous Machine, it starts with love. If you’re going to take a story and find a new way to tell it, there needs to be something at the core of it that you adore. Something that makes things flutter in your gut or spark in your brain. Or both. Both is good.

It has to contain something you want to share with the world. Something that you think will change them like it changed you.

And when our director, Louise Egan, brought us together to adapt The Tiger’s Bride (itself a reworking of Beauty and the Beast), it was clear that this was a story she was thrilled to share. Some of us had read it before, some of us were totally new to it; but as we read through Angela Carter’s rich language and visceral imagery, we were all enchanted.

What next? We worked out what the characters might look like and how they might move. What we liked about them. What we didn’t. We found out why we all loved about the story. And we found the tale’s moving parts – the ambiguity that allowed us to fit it all together. The bits we could put our stamp on, or, in my case, shamelessly try to twist into comedy. Luckily, the director and the rest of the cast made sure we kept the story clear, powerful and magical (with a pleasing smattering of comedy too).

Now, we have the heart and the head. How do we put it together? It’s time to get creative. We’re a small company with limited resources, yet the story we’re telling is one of castles, carriages, beasts, and magic. After throwing nearly everything we could think of against the wall, we dispensed with more ideas than we kept (I still think stilts would have been great) but a few things stuck. Shadows, clever use of frames, some creepy puppets, and an astonishingly well-composed score: we had a show.

It’s a show that we’re pretty proud of. We think you’ll really like it. It’s a little slice of dark, theatrical enchantment. It’s Beauty and the Beast, but Beauty’s all grown up and she’s grown teeth. It’s a story to fall in love with.

Some say that limitation breeds invention and that seems to be the case with us.

(Originally published in the Oxford Times, 7th September 2017)
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