Emma Donoghue adapts Room for the stage
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."