English, Department of


Date of this Version


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The George Eliot Review 29 (1998) Published by The George Eliot Fellowship, http://georgeeliot.org/


The George Eliot Review 2018 (29)


I'm sure you all know more about George Eliot than I do, so I thought I'd talk for a few minutes about the difficulties and joys of adapting her work, and especially Adarn Bede for the stage.

I'd been asked to adapt Adarn Bede for the Orange Tree theatre in Richmond, Surrey, then a tiny room-theatre above a pub. I didn't know much about George Eliot then. I didn't know that just around the corner from the pub theatre was the beautiful house in Park Shot where she had begun to write Adarn Bede and where the sound of George Lewes's scratching pen had irritated her as they worked together. I didn't know that it was in the unchanged beauty of Richmond Park, where Carry (my wife) and I often walk together that George Eliot also walked with Lewes. I certainly didn't know how much I would come to appreciate her heart and mind.

It's daunting to compress a five-hundred-page novel into a twelve-foot square space for one evening's entertainment. But I'd always been attracted by the challenge of huge themes in small spaces. As an actor, I'd been in a production of King Lear in that tiny room!

An adaptation, of course, can never be a substitute for reading the book - it's hopefully a different kind of work. I knew I must concentrate on the dramatic elements of the story, all the conflicts and relationships between the characters. From the start the question had to be not 'what can we do with this?' but 'what can we do without?' But my aim was to bring the imagination of George Eliot as directly and simply as possible to the imagination of a live audience, through the medium of the actors.