A lot of theatre artists have had their hopes and plans for this year dashed on the rocks of the Covid-19 pandemic. This means there is a clogged production pipeline, with many 2020 shows pushed into the 2021 calendar. Sad for the artists involved, but also a big blow for the shows that are at an early writing or conception stage, and haven't a hope of seeing the light of day until 2022 or 2023.
So it's worth considering how writers and creators might repurpose work into a different, less pandemic-vulnerable, artform. There are many significant recent examples of works that originated as plays and found their eventual expression, or an extra expression, in an alternative artistic shape.
Kevin Barry's 2019 novel Night Boat to Tangier was originally written as a two-hander stage play. Though best known as a novelist, Barry has had some success on the stage, including with Autumn Royal in 2017 featuring Siobhán McSweeney of Derry Girls fame. The original Everyman production was followed by a national tour. Barry's latest novel retains the Beckettian ghost of its original play-script form, with the action taking place over a short period, as two men wait on a beach in Spain for a third character. The story is fleshed out with flashbacks to earlier events in the Cork criminal underworld. The novel's theatrical origin was used as a stick to beat it with by a number of critics, though it survived the jabs and was longlisted for the Booker Prize.
Joseph O'Connor's most recent novel, Shadowplay, about the life of Dracula creator Bram Stoker and actor/impresario Henry Irving, was preceded by his BBC radio playscript about the two men, Vampyre Man. Again, though best known as a novelist, O'Connor appears to be inexorably drawn to the theatre both for subject matter and form. The play had a good radio production in 2015, featuring Darragh Kelly as the Gothic novelist, but the story found its fullest expression in the novel, which won the Novel of the Year in the An Post Irish Book Awards last year. There has, for a long time, been talk about Martin McDonagh's one unproduced stage play, The Banshees of Inisheer, which the playwright himself described as "not as good as the others".
It is the third part of the Aran Islands trilogy, the other two parts being The Cripple of Inishmaan and The Lieutenant of Inishmore, both of which have been published and have had multiple revivals since their premieres in the 1990s and 2000s. Theatre folks have long been curious about the missing play. What was wrong with it? It was recently announced that McDonagh was making The Banshees of Inisheer into a movie, teaming up again with Brendan Gleeson and Colin Farrell, who starred in his breakout film In Bruges.
The movie business has always been happy to hunt for ideas in the theatre. One of the earliest talkies was Alfred Hitchcock's version of Seán O'Casey's Juno and the Paycock in 1930 and John Ford made an adaptation of The Plough and the Stars in 1937. In recent years, Dublin Oldschool by Emmet Kirwan, a hit play that moved from the Dublin Fringe Festival to national tours and a run at London's National Theatre, was made into Dave Tynan's 2018 film of the same name. The movie retains the dense wordiness of Kirwan's original play in a brave and brilliant transformation.
A Date for Mad Mary, directed by Darren Thornton, was an adaptation of Ten Dates with Mad Mary by Drogheda playwright Yasmine Akram; this feisty, off-kilter romance brought the anarchic female-centred energy of fringe theatre to the screen.
There are writers who are purely playwrights, and do not easily shape-shift into other forms. But there is a lot of adaptation going on right now and a lot of art is jumping the species barrier, all the more rapidly with the profound current alterations in opportunity. Recycling is in the air, and not just because the Green Party is in government formation talks.