Monday 15 August 2011

Book versus adaptation?

Last week I went to the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden to see the Mariinsky Ballet dance Anna Karenina. I had intended to read the novel before going but was so busy reading about five books at the same time (which is very unlike me, I’m usually a one book kind of girl) that I never quite got round to embarking on the mammoth book that is Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina. To start with I was rather disappointed with myself for this, but then I thought that perhaps it was a good thing as I tend to judge adaptations of novels I enjoy harshly, and am able to enjoy both book and adaptation much more freely if I read the book second.

As it was, I arrived at the theatre not really knowing what to expect. A friend from work had told me that she thoroughly enjoyed the novel, and I liked the sound of it from what she had told me. I got a little confused as to who was who to start with, but once I’d worked it out I thought it rather enjoyable. I was somewhat surprised that it wasn’t a particularly long ballet considering the length of the novel, but then it would hardly have been possible to fit all that into a normal length ballet.   

Other than the actual dancing, one of the aspects of going to the theatre that I particularly enjoy is the set itself, and the dramatic techniques used. Rather than lots of massive set changes they used projection to allow the story to move around within each act. This was really quite effective, not particularly being concerned by the fact the physical objects on stage hadn’t much changed. One particularly impressive piece of scenery was a train carriage that appeared several times throughout the evening. I was particularly impressed by how they did the end (but won’t say what happened in case people reading this have yet to read the book, and plan to at some point).

All in all, it was a good evening. It was nice to see a company dance that I don’t often get to experience, and to see a ballet that I had never seen before. I do wonder, however, what my feelings would have been toward it had I read the book beforehand. I saw a ballet of Wuthering Heights a few years ago and didn’t particularly enjoy what they had done to a book that I am particularly fond of. I love the musical of Les Miserables but have yet to read the book, hopefully when I do it will not ruin my enjoyment of the musical. I saw the musical of Oliver at the end of last year, and although I thought it was good, I still found myself judging it somewhat for things they changed from the book. The most obvious departure from the novel being the character of Fagin. In the musical he comes across almost as a lovable rogue, you don’t feel a lot of distaste toward him. In the book I found him highly unpleasant, conniving, and to blame for rather tragic events near the end. The novel is far darker than the musical portrays.

For some reason I find it less annoying when musicals and ballets don’t stick to novels as closely as I would hope than when films do it. There are some films of books that I can barely sit through because they not only don’t stick well to the story, but fundamentally change the essence of the novel. I’m always excited by the prospect of films of novels that I like, but also cautious of being disappointed. I am yet to have seen an adaptation of Wuthering Heights that I enjoyed, and yet will eagerly await the release of the latest film. I have recently come to the conclusion, however, that I am perhaps a bit harsh on adaptations, they are, after all, only based on the books. So long as they capture the essence of the novel, and stay true to that then they aren’t half bad, or so I try to convince myself as I sit through another film ruining a brilliant novel for me. Please do comment about film adaptations you like, or dislike. I would be more than happy to discuss further.

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