It’s almost impossible to avoid the theatre when your office is only a stones throw from the West End. Just a few minutes walk from our doorstep takes us directly to some of the best stage productions in the world: looking out the right window you can see the glimmering sign for Motown the Musical, turning down the right lane gives you a glimpse of the children of School of Rock. I can hardly take a lunch break wander without stumbling upon a theatre showing something I’ve never heard of. This makes not only the theatre lover in us smile, but even the book reader, too, because so much of what we watch come to life on a stage started as words on a page.
There’s nothing more magical than seeing your favourite characters and their stories take center stage, so we wanted to share some of our favourite stage adaptations of books — and, conveniently, they’re all still showing in London, so get tickets while you can!
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
This 2003 novel follows Christopher Boone, a young boy living on the autism spectrum, as he tries to solve mystery of who killed his neighbor’s dog (in, you would be wise to guess, the nighttime). It’s not just a story about a murdered dog, though; it delves into the stigmas surrounding those with social disabilities and studies a broken family as old secrets are made known. It’s a phenomenal story on its own, but the stage production adds another layer to it by craftily presenting how it feels to live in Christopher’s mind and body. As he ventures out of his safe neighborhood bubble and into the bustling world of London, the watchers (presumably sitting in the real life London) see the city through new eyes: they feel the chaos of light and sound as someone on the autism spectrum might. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is not only a story full of both laughs and tears, it’s a theatre-viewing essential.
The Woman in Black
I’ll admit, I saw the play before reading this book, as I was drawn to the idea of a scary play. Plays can’t be scary, I thought. It’s not like it can be full of jump scares or CGI monsters that will appear every time I close my eyes, right? But, oh, how wrong I was. The Woman in Black masters the art of a spooky stage production. Based on the 1983 horror novel by Susan Hill, it captures the solitude and uneasiness of the haunted-house atmosphere through lighting tricks and, yes, even a few jump scares. I found myself anxiously glancing over my shoulder the entire walk home. It’s a simple play, but it stays true to its literary roots, making it an instant classic — it’s even the second longest running play in the West End, as it’s now entering its 31st year!
Ah, an introduction-to-musical-theatre classic. Even those who don’t typically go out of their way to watch stage productions often have seen Wicked; or, at least, are familiar with the iconic green-toned Elphaba. The powerhouses in Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth launched this musical into the hall of fame, but many viewers are often unaware to its equally powerful literary beginning. Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West, published in 1995 by Gregory Maguire, is a revised version of the 1900 novel The Wizard of Oz. The novel takes the characters we meet in The Wizard of Oz and gives them a new perspective on life, love and the nature of good and evil. Then, the musical takes the novel and gives it a new perspective that mostly includes the glitteriest steam-punk costumes you’ve ever seen and award-winning music (how the women who play Elphaba can consistently hit all those notes every night, night after night, is an athletic feat more impressive any Olympic medal, in my humble opinion). Both the novel and the musical are creative and inventive takes on The Wizard of Oz story that I imagine won’t be fading into the ghosts of witch-story’s past any time soon.
If you’ve been reading these Friday blog posts for the past few months, you might have caught that there are some stories we can find a way to sneak into all of our ‘favourite’ lists. Matilda ranks as one of our favourite films about books, but it also does impeccably well on stage, too. I don’t frequently emote much during public viewings of something, but I can say with absolute sincerity that I was on a roller coaster of in-stitches laughing and face-clutching crying throughout the entirety of the show. The stage production of Matilda does the perfect job of bringing to life the wacky world of Roald Dahl. The children are precious and curious, the adults are immature and rotten, and the imagery is whimsical in just the way the book illustrations were. Matilda might be our new triple threat: a favourite book, a favourite movie, and a favourite musical.
The Phantom of the Opera
When I think of The Phantom of the Opera, I actually think of a young Emmy Rossum belting her heart out in the film adaptation, but its tale begins much longer ago than that. In 1909, French writer Gaston Leroux (not to be confused with any of the characters from The Beauty and the Beast) began publishing a serialization of the story in the French newspaper Le Gaulois; eventually, he compiled it all into volume form as Le Fantôme de l’Opéra. The novel is inspired by events surrounding the nineteenth century Paris Opera, including a corpse, a surmised ghost and even real underground water tanks. In the musical adaptation, Andrew Lloyd Weber uses the novel and other real-life events (like an actual chandelier fall!) to craft a literal opera about The Phantom of the Opera. The music is haunting, the sets are chilling, and it’s a masterpiece that is often hailed as one of the most popular musicals in the world.
As always, thank you for reading, and be sure to tweet us @AgoraBooksLDN with your book-to-stage recommendations!