More over there ~ theatre notes

Thursday, March 26, 2009

More over there

This should have been a continuation of yesterday's post about peripatetic Australians, but only arrived in today's mail: to wit, an announcement that the Malthouse's production of Optimism, which opens in Melbourne in May, is traveling to the Edinburgh International Festival and the 2010 Sydney Festival. Both festivals and the Sydney Theatre Company are co-producers of the work, an adaptation of Voltaire's Candide which will be directed by Michael Kantor and is written by Tom Wright. Wright's adaptation of Euripides's The Women of Troy was, incidentally, yesterday shortlisted for the NSW Premier's Literary Awards Play Prize. You can find the other shortlistees through the link.


Anonymous said...

I find it strange that Tom Wright was nominated for The Women of Troy. I assumed what he did was mostly an edited translation of Euripides. I can't say that with any certainty as I haven't read any other translations of Euripides, but my impression is reinforced by the Premier's Literary Award website which has a quote from publicity regarding The Women of Troy:

"One of the most powerful and compelling anti-war plays ever written, Euripides' tragedy reels with the consequences of destruction."

Based on that it strikes me as inappropriate for a playwright to be nominated for adapting another playwright's work. Frankly I'm puzzled.

Anonymous said...

Your puzzlement is understandable Abe. It's a bizarre judging panel: for scripts and plays the judges were Jane Mills, Jon Claire Lee and Kate Gaul.

Jane Mills judging plays? Kate Gaul judging screenplays? Jon Claire Lee judging writing of any kind? It's very strange.

Can anyone enlighten me? Who chose this strange panel?

Alison Croggon said...

I am not so much puzzled by the nomination of Tom Wright's adaptation, which I thought was marvellous, as by the bizarre judge's comments on it. And where, Anon, did you find out who was on the judging panel? It's nowhere evident on the website, that I could see. To answer your question, Abe: yes, I think an adaptation of a classical Greek tragedy is a wholly legitimate enterprise for a contemporary playwright, and can result, as in this case, in striking original work. Caryl Churchill (Thyestes) and Ted Hughes (Oedipus) spring to mind...

Anonymous said...

I'm not questioning the legitimacy of the enterprise. An adaptation can display as much artistic imagination as any other kind of work, but I wonder about the ground rules for the competition. In film awards (the Oscars, the AFIs) for example, screenplays are often awarded under different categories, Best Original Screenplay or Best Adapted Screenplay. While those distinctions may be debatable, I also think they're useful for lots of reasons and they don't imply greater or lesser worth. I'm just not convinced in this case whether The Women of Troy is an appropriate nomination, even if it happened to be the best script in the competition, when the Malthouse Website advertised it as:

"The Women of Troy by Euripides...adapted by Barrie Kosky and Tom Wright." It just seems like a line of sorts has been crossed if Euripides gets top billing. To be fair I'd need to compare and contrast an established version of the play with Wright's version to make a really informed comment.

However, purely on its own terms as a script, I had mixed feelings about it when I saw the Malthouse production. It was at its most effective as a plotless meditation on war and its consequences, but it jarred for me once Menelaus entered. The shift did not seem organic to what had gone on before. I felt like I'd been watching an opera that suddenly decided it wanted to be a play, and the Abu Ghraib references that had resonance for me up till that point, also began to jar and feel imposed on the proceedings. Despite many striking elements the show didn't ultimately work for me. Again, I'd need to read the play to determine whether my dissatisfaction was caused by the script or the production.

Alison Croggon said...

Hi Abe - I did a bit of research for you. The relevant bit in the eligibility guidelines reads:

"Novels, plays, scripts and collections of poetry which are, or contain, adaptations or re-workings of pre-existing works will be considered if they transform, rather than merely transmit, the intentions of the source work. The new work should attain a standard of achievement comparable to the
source work. The new work should have been first published, produced or performed within the eligible period."

Wright's adaptation is far from a slavish copy or edited rearrangement of Euripides's original. (Which it might be worth reading, so you can see the new bits added in for yourself). I don't think there's anything dubious about its nomination.

Anonymous said...

I agree Alison, that Wright's work is so extensive that it qualifies as original work in its right, not simply an adaptation--as opposed, for instance, to the Andrew Upton adaptation of "Hedda Gabler" which was not much more than a translation into modern jargon, with no structural or thematic changes at all. I think today's seven Green Room Award nominations for this piece are well deserved.

Alison Croggon said...

Yes, I think they're well deserved too. Astounding theatre. (Note to self: must blog the Green Rooms...)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your follow up Alison. I accept what you say, in which case I'd argue that the display ad on The Malthouse website is misleading. I notice in the case of Optimism, it's billed as "by Tom Wright after Voltaire". Maybe similar accreditation might've been more appropriate for The Women of Troy.

Alison Croggon said...'s fairly standard (for example) to call Ted Hughes's Oedipus as an adaptation of Seneca's play, even though the play itself is stunningly Ted Hughes. I don't think there are hard and fast rules on the protocol - after all, it is an adaptation - and certainly I wouldn't call it misleading, since it's certainly based on Euripides. All literature is, after all, cannibalism of other literature. But that's another debate. Or maybe not?