Over 28 years of theatre making, Complicite has adapted, created and been inspired by a variety of texts from a Steve Bell cartoon to Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure.
Working with the text was a major component of The Master and Margarita devising process, and often the most daunting part as in this particular case we were adapting an incredibly detailed novel with a cult following.
But the key is to just dive in. As scary as it may seem, there is no better way than to stage the chapter immediately after reading it.
- Put the text on its feet: Split the chapter into sections and give small groups different sections to stage. Thread these sections together and see what you get. Can you already see ways to make the story clearer, or the images more exciting? It is important for everyone to realise that this is not the definitive staging. These are just preliminary ideas. In our rehearsal room, we went through heaps of ideas. Some of these inspired other ideas, some came to nothing – it didn’t matter.
- Experiment with the text: In your initial attempts, notice how different readings of the chapter lead to different interpretations of the story. For example, give three groups the same chapter but ask them to focus on different things: one group stages just the dialogue; another just the narrative; and the last just the descriptions of people and place. Or perhaps groups could look at references to particular themes in the chapter, or a single character’s journey through that chapter. Completely different stories will emerge from the same bit of text – and again, no one of them is likely to be right first time, or perhaps at all. Think about how you might combine the most successful bits of each of these versions – be playful and bold.
Most importantly, don’t make decisions too early about what to keep in the show and what to discard. Keep digging into the text for different interpretations by doing as many exercises as possible. This will also be great training for your group. They will learn to create together, to use each other’s ideas, to be constantly alert and thinking about new ideas and storytelling devices. It doesn’t matter if at first the results of these exercises are unsatisfying. They will get better the more you do them.
Words: Sasha Milavic Davies/ Image: Sarah Ainslie