Top 10 Page To Stage Adaptations

'War Horse'

Harry Potter mania grips London, while over the pond the States is seized by Hamilton fever. What do they have in common? Both originated in literary sources - Harry Potter and the Cursed Child in J.K. Rowling's seminal book series, and Hamilton in Ron Chernow's historical biography. They're not alone, with other examples this summer including Breakfast at Tiffany's, now in the West End, Therese Raquin coming to Southwark Playhouse, and the return of Pride and Prejudice to Regent's Park Open Air. In celebration, here are 10 of the best page to stage adaptations.

1. War Horse, National Theatre, 2007

Michael Morpurgo's seemingly impossible-to-translate First World War epic, told through the eyes of horse Joey, was movingly and awe-inspiringly realised on stage via the collective efforts of writer Nick Stafford, co-directors Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris, and, of course, the Handspring Puppet Company. A familiar subject made viscerally fresh.

2. Les Liaisons Dangereuses, The Other Place, Stratford, 1985

An epistolary novel poses numerous challenges to the adaptor, but Christopher Hampton made it look effortless in his stripping down of Choderlos de Laclos's scandalous work to the core themes: lust, vengeance, deceit and death. Sleek and stylish, the original production was a memorable vehicle for Alan Rickman, and the Donmar's recent revival proved it still has teeth.

3. Matilda, Courtyard Theatre, Stratford, 2011

Another RSC hit, this time a pitch-perfect take on Roald Dahl by composer Tim Minchin, book writer Dennis Kelly and director Matthew Warchus, with every creative choice infused by the author's anarchic spirit. Despite its young cast, it sidesteps cute and doesn't get overwhelmed by production - unlike the baggy Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Madeleine Worrall in 'Jane Eyre'

4. Jane Eyre, Bristol Old Vic, 2014

Sally Cookson's two-part production (condensed into one for its reprised run) delivered both a clear, astute psychological reading and bold ensemble staging. From Michael Vale's adventure playground set to creative music choices - Bertha's "Mad About the Boy" is spine-tingling - Cookson wasn't afraid to take risks with a classic in pursuit of theatrical power.

5. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, National Theatre, 2012

Another challenging source ingeniously adapted by playwright Simon Stephens and director Marianne Elliott, retaining the wit and insight of Mark Hadden's novel. Key to its success in relating its protagonist's experience is Bunny Christie's eloquent design, Finn Ross's video projections and Frantic Assembly's wonderfully empathetic movement.

6. Les Miserables, Barbican, 1985

Victor Hugo's sprawling novel as a sung-through musical? A mad notion, but one indelibly realised by Claude-Michel Schonberg and Alain Boublil's stirring score and an RSC-developed production helmed by Cameron Mackintosh and Trevor Nunn - who had already tackled another tricky literary project in Cats. Critics were initially dubious; audiences knew better.

7. 1984, Nottingham Playhouse, 2013

In this co-production with the Almeida and Headlong, Robert Icke and Duncan MacMillan rescued Orwell from A-level essays by making his concerns about state surveillance and censorship feel queasily contemporary. This slippery piece is constantly in dialogue with the audience, implicating us in the dystopian world's voyeurism and showing how our actions shape the world.

8. The 39 Steps, West Yorkshire Playhouse, 2005

More of a meta-adaptation, owing as much to Hitchcock's film version and the staging process itself as John Buchan's novel, this gloriously silly four-actor show (written by Simon Corble and Nobby Dimon, rejigged by Patrick Barlow) is a feast of quick changes, wordplay and winking in-jokes. Despite its zany post-modernism, it delivers Buchan's ripping yarn with relish.


9. Waves, National Theatre, 2006

Virginia Woolf's formal experimentation - fragmentary, opaque stream-of-consciousness monologues - demanded a similarly adventurous adaptation. Katie Mitchell certainly delivered with a devised multimedia piece that used film (from Leo Warner at 59 Productions) and soundscape to give internal life external form and deconstruct the creation of art -honouring Woolf's intellectual daring.

10. Wolf Hall/Bring Up the Bodies, Swan Theatre, Stratford, 2014

The stage version of Hilary Mantel's multiple-prize-winning works came with lofty expectations, ably met by the RSC. Mike Poulton smartly compressed the tomes, offering a lesson in brilliantly economic theatrical storytelling, while Jeremy Herrin's inventive production navigated the complex machinations with clarity and dramatic vigour. History made vividly current.

Picture credit: Simon Annand, Manuel Harlan, 59 Productions

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From This Author Marianka Swain