This is, perhaps more than any other, the most important day of the creative process of making theatre. A collection of individuals, highly skilled actors, stage managers, composers, designer and director, come together to try to form an exciting, working, creative group of artists that can engage and inspire one another. They may know each other already, or more likely they may not. Day One provides that first small glimpse into what it might be possible to achieve together as a team, a sum greater than its individual parts, in just 20 days from start to finish.
And so Day One is to some extent all about rituals and traditions: scarves and coats off, welcomes, introductions, conversation, tea and coffee, health and safety and of course, the first read-through.
A new play-script, a brand new adaptation of that much loved novel Kidnapped. Its a weighty responsibility – this seemingly simple novel is much admired and continues to exert, even in our more cynical post-modern time, a powerful hold perhaps due to its evocative descriptions of Scotland, and young Davie Balfour’s kidnap adventure that sees him travel the breadth of this land.
And as with any adaptation, the question/dilemma of ‘faithfulness’ will arise. To what extent can or should a piece of theatre be ‘faithful’ to its source material, the novel? What has been kept? What has been discarded? And why? Of course, the process of adapting a novel for drama is inherently unfaithful – for the minute the form is changed (where the reader must become the audience, the individual becomes the collective) then we have become unfaithful by default. Stevenson envisaged a novel, he wrote a novel. And so by changing this very fact, we’ve become unfaithful to him by some large degree.
What we can seek is a ‘faithfulness’ to the spirit, the idea, the momentum, the creative purpose of the novel. These things become central to the debates, discussions, and discoveries. What was Stevenson exploring with Kidnapped, what did he seek to evoke in his reader, what passion, what questions, what thinking did he as a writer desire that we engaged with? It is these central tenets that concern us as we grapple with the first read-through. Our adaptation seeks to relate to Stevenson’s core ideas, the spirit of his novel, and thus to retain its faithfulness-in-essence whilst not being slavish or unduly bound, to a literalism in moving from novel to stage.
And as we read this new play for the first time, some of these ideas begin to become clear. Stevenson’s central character, young Davie Balfour, is the heart of the matter. His journey in the novel is a hard, physical, journey from place to place, but the real purpose of this is that his journey represents that of a relatively naive young man entering an adult world – of injustice, of vengeance, in a Scotland rapidly changing its social structures. Kidnapped is an adventure story, yes, but set in a complex world of social and political turmoil in mid Eighteenth century Scotland. Davie Balfour’s’ boy-to-man tale is more than an enjoyable yarn of intrigue and mini-boys-own-adventures, it is also a complex morality tale of (some) good and (some) evil and one in which Davie learns, perhaps for the first time, what kind of country Scotland – or more precisely Highland Scotland – actually is.