Blog : Posts tagged with 'adaptation'

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Is it about a bicycle?

In which FP has been to see an operatic adaptation of that classic 20th century Irish novel The Third Policeman, so writes a review filled with in-jokes


Thursday night: to the Cube Cinema. Not for a film, but for an opera: The Third Policeman, adapted and produced by a chap called Ergo Phizmiz. Having read the novel, I was intrigued as to how a stage adaptation would work: of all the books I have read, it is…

The Plain People Of The Internet: By, there’s no footnotes yet. What are you doing there getting forty words or more into a blog post already and not writing any footnotes?

I was wondering when you people might turn up. Somehow, I thought you might. The footnotes were something I was wondering about, because they do rather alter the structure and format of the novel.* How would they be presented, in operatic form?

The Plain People of the Internet: So did they put signs up on the stage then? Cards with the footnote text on? Or a simultaneous narration chap type of thing?

Well, no. The works of de Selby*** were integrated into the main part of the libretto. But now, you’re getting me ahead of myself. I meant to say how faithful an adaptation it was, but you people there have led me down the line of criticism much quicker than I had intended. Everything is getting turned and turned about, and we’re getting to the wrong parts of the review first. Which is ironic, really. The Third Policeman is sometimes said to be a classic surrealist novel, or a classic postmodernist novel, but at heart it really has a quite straightforward start-to-finish plot. No fiddling around with flashbacks or more complicated temporal structures: it starts at the start, ends at the end, and gets there directly.**** Nice and straightforward to translate into a stage production, so long as you manage to replicate the mood. The mood, indeed, is the important thing.

The Plain People of the Internet: The key to the whole lock, stock and breadbasket!

Indeed, if you want to put it that way. There have been innumerable…

The Plain People of the Internet: We counted them.

You don’t know what I’m going to say!

The Plain People of the Internet: Ah, but we counted them. Five hundred and twenty-seven.

Don’t be silly. Nobody has counted them, and there aren’t five hundred and twenty seven. There have been innumerable…

The Plain People of the Internet: Well then, how would you know?

Shush now. There have been innumerable dream…

The Plain People of the Internet: Fünfhundert, sieben und zwanzig.

…dream sequences committed to literature, but none of them, to my ears, quite ring true. The Third Policeman is the only book I have read that does have the feel of a real, genuine dream. It has dream logic, hallucinatory dream logic, buildings with impossible perspectives or images that are two contradictory things simultaneously.***** It has dream-logic in the plot: the mechanics of Eternity or the machinations of the eponymous Policeman Fox.** And this is something that came across very well in the opera. The combination of live actors, Phizmiz’s music, projected video, shadow-puppetry and all, had a wonderfully dreamlike atmosphere to it, wonderful at capturing the tone of the book itself, both surreal and slightly frightening. Moreover, clearly the company had some finely-honed stagecraft skills: the projected video seemed to be a single stream, and the music was essentially continuous, so there was no space at all for the cast to miss any marks, whether acting on their own, as a group, or with partly-prerecorded dialogue. With several costume changes for two of the three actors, things offstage must have been hectic.

I would go back and see The Third Policeman again, but Thursday’s performance was the last one in Bristol. If you’d like to see it yourself, then it is coming up in the next few weeks in Rotterdam, Dartington and Bridport, according to Mr Phizmiz’s website. If you’re going to be around any of those places, I’d recommend it. Having read the novel, I was intrigued as to how a stage adaptation would work: of all the books I have read, it is…

The Plain People of the Internet: By, there it is: if you saw us coming, then we’re sure we saw that. And you never even told us: Is it about a bicycle?

* Someone once said, about this site, that the profusion of footnotes meant I wasn’t a very good writer. I see their point,****** but disagree. A heavily-footnoted work such as The Third Policeman is possibly as close as you can come to a hypertext narrative in book form, and reading it leads to one skipping up and down and flipping between two separate trains of thought, main text and footnote, as one goes. Rather, in other words, like browsing the Web with a dozen tabs all open at once, flipping to another whilst one waits for the first to load.

** Or, at least, the dreams I have have that sort of plot. Maybe not everyone’s dreams are the same.

*** A most distinguished and unique philosopher who is generally only to be found within the pages of O’Brien’s work.

**** It’s certainly not a postmodern novel when compared with Lanark, one of my favourite novels; although it did influence Lanark greatly – or apparently, at least. It says as much in the pages of Lanark, in a section where the book’s author lists all his various sources and inspirations, including some sources and inspirations which allegedly inspired passages which, if you look them up, don’t exist anywhere else in the novel. Now that’s postmodernism.

***** One of these – a cracked ceiling that is at the same time both just a pattern of cracks in plaster and a detailed map of the local area – was one of the few things in the book that didn’t seem to get mentioned at all in the opera.

The Plain People of the Footnote Internet: No Plain People either, but to be fair Mr O’Brien kept them to badger in his newspapery work. Now, here’s a thing. You know those horror films where your man thinks it’s all a dream, but then he wakes up and the evil axe-wiggler nightmare is still around and about the place? Is this the same here? You, reaading or writing on the outside of that screen there, thought that you had escaped into a footnote and had gotten yourself away from us, only for Plain People to jump in and interrupt your footnotes too? And does that mean we are about to tap you yourself there on your shoulder?

****** ie, that I can’t edit properly.

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Interconnectedness

In which we consider the perils of an updated adaptation


When I was in my early teens, one of my favourite books – even though I didn’t really understand half of the plot at the time – was Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, by Douglas Adams. With a plot which was cobbled together from two separate Doctor Who stories, and which relies on the works of a poet I’ve never even read, it can be a little tricky to understand.* When I heard that it was going to be on Radio 4, I had to listen, purely to see if it was adaptable at all.

They haven’t done badly so far, to be honest, although the plot has been twisted round in various ways that, with one epiisode to go, don’t quite make sense yet. On the other hand, they haven’t quite pulled off updating the story to the present day – some parts would have been much better as a 1980s period piece.** And they did leave in half of my favourite joke.***

This isn’t meant to be a critique of the series, though, especially as it still has one episode to go. This is something I’ve spotted, which Radio 4 have been quiet about so far. Radio 4 are also going to dramatise the other Dirk Gently novel.

There’s a small clue on their website: it refers to DGHDA as the “first series”. Really, it’s a standalone book – the only characters apart from Dirk who pop up in the other book, The Long Dark Teatime Of The Soul, are Miss Pearce and Sgt Gilks. What makes it so obvious, though, is that quite apart from the plot-based changes, the producers of the current radio series have made other changes to DGHDA, adding references to tLDTotS to link the two books together. I’m also pretty sure they’re going to change tLDTotS to add in characters from the first book, too, to try and present them as a cohesive pair.

Whether this will work or not is another matter. Bookwise, The Long Dark Teatime Of The Soul is rather patchier and had more plot holes than Dirk Gently; although one of the things they both have in common is that small asides, or scenes which appear to be a quick joke, can turn out to be an important plot point later on.**** I’m enjoying the radio Dirk Gently so far, but I’m not completely convinced, and I don’t know why its adapters thought they had to do more to link the books together. Maybe I should write to them and ask.

* Particularly, you have to know that Coleridge’s Kubla Khan is, as far as poems go, pretty short. Wikipedia has a very thorough and spoiler-filled plot summary, which explains most of the trickier bits.

** How many people still use tape-based answering machines, instead of voicemail? How many people still refer to “car phones”? A story with a plot revolving around people leaving messages on answering machines, and stealing answering-machine tapes, doesn’t really make sense if you move it forward twenty years

*** “There’s no such word as herring in my dictionary!” Unfortunately, unless I wasn’t listening properly, they missed out the setup line which comes many scenes earlier.

**** At the start of Long Dark Teatime Of The Soul, Dirk had recently set up work as a fortune-teller, in drag, to get some cash in – but gave it up when everything he said, however outlandish, came true. It seems like a throwaway comic scene, at first – but in actual fact it contains important hints to what is going on later in the book.

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