There’s been a lot of stuff in the media and blogs about adapting films to stage recently, much of it prompted by this production as well as other adaptations this year like Elling and A Matter of Life and Death. I can’t say that I have a general opinion about this as it will always depend on the adaptation. Simply trying to put a film on stage is unlikely to work: the scene changes are far too rapid for the comfort of the stage management team and the audience; it is difficult to create atmosphere using montages or settings (although it can be fun to see it attempted); and you can’t really do close ups, where the acting can be just eye work, unless you are in a small intimate space.
Elling, I’ve been told, suffers because of this last factor; what worked at the Bush is lost in the bigger space of the Trafalgar. I had a similar feeling about some scenes in All About My Mother either because the acting didn’t seem to get past the first few rows or because I thought they’d had to add a little too much pantomime in order to reach all parts of the Old Vic’s barn-like auditorium. It was only in a few scenes though.
If I have to generalise I think that stage adaptations should always feel very different to the film and if possible make you go back to the film with fresh eyes or renewed curiosity. This was certainly the case with A Matter of Life and Death (a film I love dearly) even if they changed it to show that RAF bomber pilots were war criminals undeserving of second chances and had the love story being motored by only one person instead of the normal two. This production of All About My Mother will certainly send me back to the movie but I suspect that it will be more because I haven’t seen it before than if they’ve done something innovative with the adaptation.
Nobody seems to worry about the adaptation of plays into films which, of course, is much more common and can create just as many great films as mediocre ones. The thing to do, as far as I can see, is always to compare the adaptation with the source and relish the differences rather than whine about them.
Something that I found myself missing in this production was Spain. It would have been idiotic for everybody to speak in Spanish accents and I thought that giving Catalan people Welsh accents was a nice touch but I missed having the sense of place which is almost certainly in the movie. Of course attempting to give a “flavour of Spain” to the piece might have led the production down the path of cliché and lazy stereotype.
There was something else that bothered me which I’ll come to after saying that I enjoyed myself, liked that fact that Lesley Manville was playing the main character and was able to dominate proceedings and that rest of the cast, especially Mark Gatiss and Diana Rigg, were fine even if there was some mixing up of names like Lola and Rosa among the older cast members. This thing that bothered me is integral to the whole piece and to the original movie, the mother is just too good, her demons external factors not internal ones, she has the capacity to make everyone love her and everybody does. That is probably the point of the whole thing and I’m missing it because I want drama, conflict and inner turmoil.