I am awful when it comes to reading, be it reading for pleasure, reading for my studies. I get bored. I’m awful at it. And it’s because I’ve grown so used to taking in information in quicker formats: films, TV shows, plays and musicals. In all of these, you can sit down for anywhere between 20 minutes to 3 hours, and take in a whole story, beginning, middle and end. So when I sit down to read a 300 page book, I almost sense just how long it’s going to take to process this information!
But then I realised what kind of texts I actually enjoy reading: plays and novels which shows are based on! Without all the unnecessary description of Dickens, plays are purely dialogue and I find I can get through most of Shakespeare in 1-2 hours. And with novels which have been adapted for stage, I find it really interesting sitting down before/after seeing a show, to compare the original text to the stage version!
So, this week’s ‘Why Aren’t You..?’ is on watching AND reading, or reading what you’re watching! Here are my top 3 recommendations for some books and plays that you MUST read, and which have been adapted into shows that you can see at the moment 🙂
Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
Adapted for the stage by Nigel Williams, and starting its run on the 3rd of September at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park
Set during a nuclear war, a plane evacuating young British boys crashes on a deserted island. Though they survived the crash, the boys now realise they have to survive against the wilderness, hunger and each other…DUN DUN DUUUUN!
I studied this at GCSE, and both this and Shakespeare really got me hooked on studying English Literature. There’s SO much in here to appreciate critically, and it’s a great text to introduce teens to literary criticism: war vs. peace, nature vs. nurture, man vs. wild, the political backdrop its set against. And this freaking line: ‘Something creamy lay among the ferny weeds’. Within that line there are like so many interpretations to be read! Ahhh! Such a good book!
You can watch Lord of the Flies at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre in September, and its revival of their critically acclaimed production from 2011. I had an interview with the theatre way back when in 2011, and got to see them assembling the crashed air craft. It was amazing to watch them prepare the stage, so to actually see it performed against that backdrop must be insane!
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, by Mark Haddon
Adapted for the stage by Simon Stephens, and currently playing at The Gielgud Theatre
This is one of my favourite books from my childhood! I read this novel when I was about 15, and ended up writing about it for one my A-Level coursework essays. Written in the form of a first person narrative, it tells the story of Christopher Boone, a 15-year old boy with autism, and the series of events which follow when a curious incident occurs, involving a dog, a pitch fork and the night time!
Both Haddon and Golding play around with metaphors throughout their books, but what’s great about The Curious Incident is it unconventional narrative. Haddon completely subverts the traditional narrative form and stream of consciousness style throughout, with prime numbers marking the start of chapters just one of these features.
I am yet to see the show (PLEASE, NATIONAL THEATRE, RELEASE MORE ENTRY PASS TICKETS), but from what I’ve seen, the stage version similarly plays around with traditional theatre conventions, in the way the show is staged.
The Merchant of Venice, by William Shakespeare
The Merchant of Venice is probably my favourite comedy by Shakespeare. And that’s because it’s more like a tragedy than a comedy!
I’m not a fan of reading the Comedies. Before studying it during my BA, every time I read A Midsummer Night’s Dream I hated it. And I still do…a little! And that’s probably because it was the first comedy I was taught at school, where they focus on themes and characters, not the beauty of the language. And the felicity of language is what makes The Merchant of Venice a great read: ‘The quality of mercy is not strained’, ‘If you prick us, do we not bleed’, ‘The villainy you teach me, I will execute, and it shall go hard, but I will better the instruction’, ‘In sooth I know not why I am so sad’. I mean, come on, so many memorable speeches and beautiful words:
‘Here is a letter, lady.
The paper as the body of my friend,
And every word in it a gaping wound,
And watching the play is an experience in itself! The Merchant of Venice would have been a comedy when watched by a Jacobean audience: the villainous, Jewish Shylock hatching plans in a Christian society, who gets his comeuppance at the end of the play. Oh, how they laughed!
But for a modern audience, Shylock’s role shifts from from villain to victim. Since WWII, the anti-semitism of Antonio and the other Christians in Venice has been played up. In the production currently on at Shakespeare’s Globe, you can’t help but sympathetise with Jonathan Pryce’s Shylock: a man spat on, kicked and spurned before our very eyes. Even the traditionally villainous and shouted speech ‘The villainy you teach me, I will execute…’ is subdued in this version, again making him wholly sympathetic. My friend is seeing the RSC’s verion shortly, and I’ll be interested to hear how that Shylock is played.
Other honorable mentions:
Wicked, by Gregory Maguire. Currently playing at the Apollo Victoria Theatre.
Seen the musical, but haven’t read the book yet!
Peter and the Starcatcher, by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. Not currently playing in the UK.
Read it and seen it *cough* bootleg *cough*. Amazing book and amazing play, which explores the origins of Peter Pan, featuring the incredible Christian Borle as Hook.
Spring Awakening, by Frank Wedekind. Not currently playing in the UK.
Read it and seen it *cough* again, bootleg *cough* That is a nasty cough, I need to shake it! Probably my favourite musical, originally starring Jonathan Groff and Lea Michelle. The original play is in German, and I’ve read it in German and English, and it’s a good read.
Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley. Not currently playing the UK, but available in cinemas on certain dates as part of NT Live.
I’m planning on rereading this when on holiday. It’s such a classic, timeless plot. And the adaptations of this are never ending! NT Live is probably the most noteworthy one, with Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller alternating bewteen Creature and Creator. If it’s not airing in cinemas, watch the BBC’s Frankenstein’s Wedding online, which is a modern retelling filmed live and featuring modern songs. Here’s a clip featuring Andrew Gower as Frankenstein: