For most of its existence, the experimental theatre company Elevator Repair Service (formed in New York in 1991) has used found texts and improvisation as the basis for its productions. "Anything that wasn't literature" says the group's founder and director John Collins.
Then in 2005 they made a radical departure: an adaptation of The Great Gatsby. Inspired by the performance artist Andy Kaufman, they performed every word of the book in a production that lasted over six hours. The show, Gatz, has since toured the world to huge acclaim, though it never reached the UK because of a rights issue.
Next, Elevator Repair Service turned to Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury, and now they conclude a trilogy of modernist adaptations with The Sun Also Rises, which receives its world premiere at the Edinburgh Festival tomorrow. "I realised I really loved the language of those writers," explains Collins.
They have adapted them in different ways. For The Sound and the Fury they staged a single chapter. In The Sun Also Rises, like Gatz, they are taking on the whole book, but this time it is a heavily edited version.
"Hemingway created dialogue that had a perfect rhythm to it," says Collins. They began stripping away everything that surrounded the dialogue, using it only as a guide. "Then the novel itself becomes a great primary source. What's really gratifying is that we have found a very compelling play inside this novel."
For the company, the trilogy has been a fruitful but unusual move into using established texts. "A five-year process of selling our soul," Collins jokes. He doesn't envisage the company doing another literary adaptation next. Collins thinks he might even write a play. How radical.
14-17 August at the Royal Lyceum Theatre. Read an extended inter view with John Collins at independent.co.uk/artsblogReuse content