Emma Donoghue adapts Room for the stage

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - LAU­REN LA ROSE

Emma Donoghue made a suc­cess­ful shift from best­seller to screen­writer with her Os­car-nom­i­nated adap­ta­tion of “Room,” but she says a new stage pro­duc­tion is an even more fit­ting show­case for her cel­e­brated sur­vival story.

Theatre Royal Strat­ford East in Lon­don and Abbey Theatre in Donoghue’s na­tive Dublin are co-pro­duc­ing a new take on “Room.” Donoghue trans­lated her award-win­ning book for the play, which cen­tres on a young wo­man named Ma held in cap­tiv­ity, where she tries to cre­ate an en­vi­ron­ment of nor­malcy for her young son, Jack.

The Ir­ish-Cana­dian au­thor says in some ways, the play is even more sim­i­lar to the book in cap­tur­ing much of Jack’s in­ner mono­logue.

“The film had very lit­tle voiceover be­cause we wanted to be ab­so­lutely real about the au­di­ence be­ing in this room with the mother and child,” Donoghue says of the movie adap­ta­tion, which fea­tured Brie Lar­son’s Os­car-win­ning por­trayal of Ma op­po­site Van­cou­ver ac­tor Ja­cob Trem­blay as Jack.

“The play, I didn’t feel it had to be nat­u­ral­is­tic in the same way ... So, we went in the other di­rec­tion and em­braced the the­atri­cal­ity of the story, the way that story is all about a mother and child play­ing in or­der to keep the hor­ror at bay: im­pro­vis­ing, mak­ing up their world out of just ev­ery­day ma­te­ri­als,” she adds.

“It’s a very the­atri­cal premise, so it was great to take the story and put it on a stage. In some ways, it’s the form that suits it most eas­ily.”

Direc­tor Cora Bis­sett teamed with Scot­tish song­writer Kathryn Joseph in cre­at­ing the mu­sic and lyrics for the play, which are in­cor­po­rated in a man­ner that es­chews the con­ven­tional mu­si­cal mould, Donoghue notes.

“They bring out a new level of in­ten­sity and emotion in a way that ev­ery­thing that Ma can’t tell Jack comes out in the mu­sic, and the mu­sic rep­re­sents her pri­vate emo­tions. And then, in the sec­ond half, all of the things that Jack can’t say to the adults come out in his songs,” says Donoghue.

“I think the songs are used in a very imag­i­na­tive way. It’s not at all like a tra­di­tional mu­si­cal where peo­ple just stop half­way through a con­ver­sa­tion and sing their thoughts. I think the songs are ex­tra­or­di­nary. They’re a glimpse into the psy­che of the two main char­ac­ters.”

Donoghue says her son, Finn, joined her for the first few days of re­hearsals and his pres­ence stirred some un­ex­pected nos­tal­gia for the craft­ing of her 2010 novel.

“That was very in­ter­est­ing for him be­cause he re­mem­bers my rolling him up in the rug when he was four, and I was writ­ing the novel and I was try­ing it out on him,” says Donoghue with a laugh, in a ref­er­ence to a key plot el­e­ment in the story.

“For him to see these child ac­tors do­ing it, and he’s sit­ting there, this long-legged 13-year-old, it’s very in­ter­est­ing for him to see what it’s all led to — he’s quite proud of his in­spi­ra­tional role.”

Donoghue says it re­mains to be seen if “Room” will be staged in North Amer­ica, not­ing that fu­ture pro­duc­tions will hinge on how the play’s de­but is re­ceived.

“I know there’s cer­tainly in­ter­est in mov­ing it to (Lon­don’s) West End, and I think it will def­i­nitely at­tract a lot of at­ten­tion over here.”

“Room” will run from May 10 to June 3 be­gins pre­views on Tues­day at the Theatre Royal Strat­ford East in Lon­don. The pro­duc­tion will then be staged at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin from June 24 to July 22.


Wit­ney White, right, and Taye Kas­sim Ju­naid-Evans in a scene from the the­atri­cal adap­ta­tion of Emma Donoghue’s book "Room."

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