On Theatre

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All the world's a page. Wherever you look, theatre directors are raiding the bookshelves for inspiration. There's big business in big books, as David Edgar and the RSC proved with Nicholas Nickleby.

Ever since Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe washed ashore in pantoland directors have recognised the theatrical (and marketing) potential of literary adaptations. The real trail-blazer, though, was Mike Alfreds and Shared Experience. With Paul Dart's spare, evocative designs, Alfreds' productions of The Arabian Nights, Bleak House and A Handful of Dust influenced an entire generation through his development of storytelling technique.

Alfreds has since moved on to Cambridge Theatre Company, last seen in London with Philip Osment's The Dearly Beloved, but he returns to the novel with his adaptation of Sheridan Le Fanu's victorian thriller Uncle Silas, which opens at the Lyric Hammersmith next Tuesday.

The fact that a novel may be a GCSE set text is not good enough reason to stage it. Nor is remaining slavishly faithful to the text a virtue that is rewarded in the theatre. If all you are going to do is recount the story, paperbacks are cheaper than theatre seats. After being snowed under with awards for Anna Karenina, Shared Experience is back at the Tricycle Theatre with George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss (above). In Nancy Meckler's production three actresses are playing Maggie Tulliver.

There's an interesting idea to begin with.

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