Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Mrs Affleck by Samuel Adamson (adapted from Ibsen's Little Eyolf), Cottesloe Theatre, 20-Jan-2009 - directed by Marianne Elliott

I suppose what I want in an adaptation is for the adapter to bring something new to the piece. Otherwise they may just as well have done a fairly straight translation. Samuel Adamson moved the play's setting to the 1950s rather effectively and updated the mechanics of the relationships and jobs well but I never really felt that was enough. Also I noticed the period setting speeches - lots of stuff along the lines of (not an exact quote) “What would the new Prime Minister Eden do?” - rather too much. I kept thinking that in normal conversation you don't go round dropping heavy phrases to illustrate the period of history that is happening at the moment. I suppose that it is a trap that writers often encounter and maybe if I'd been enjoing myself more I wouldn't have noticed so much.
I was also a little unsure why he chose the title, I didn't feel that the play belonged to Claire Skinner's Mrs Affleck any than it belonged to Angus Wright, Naomi Frederick or the boy playing Ollie. She had plenty to say but didn't reveal much of herself other than the motive in the original play. This compared with a nicely thought out back story for the half-brother and sister.
I looked up the play Little Eyolf (on which this is based) afterwards and I noticed that the character of Flea, who stands in for the Rat-Wife in the original, was saying extremely similar lines to his counterpart. Not unexpected of course but I remembered how strange and awkward the lines had been coming from Flea. I couldn't quite believe that rats would be devouring communities along the Kent coast in the 1950s.
The set was designed to look a little like the space between two groynes on a beach with seating on three sides. This only came into use in the second and third acts of the play, in the first the unseated end of the space was taken up by the Affleck's kitchen and dismantling that set took the best part of half an hour but this was an early preview.
I couldn't help thinking that it that this could have been, given the actors and standard of acting, an excellent straightforward version of Little Eyolf but it didn't really work as an adaptation.

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