Director Rufus Norris and adaptor Tanya Ronder joined Whatsonstage.com’s Terri Paddock and actors Colin Morgan (making his professional debut playing the title role), Lorraine Bruce, Andrew Clark, Nathan Osgood, Joanna Scanlan, Ray Shell and Penny Layden to discuss the difficulties of adapting a novel for the stage and opening a show about a school shooting days after the Virginia Tech massacre.
DBC Pierre’s 2003 Booker Prize-winning novel follows the misadventures of American high school student Vernon, starting with him sitting in the sheriff’s office after his best friend Jesus killed all their classmates before committing suicide. This new adaptation brings the fast-paced black comedy to the stage with larger-than-life characters – the nine-strong ensemble play 50 roles between them - and song and dance routines. Vernon God Little premiered on 8 May (previews from 30 April) and continues its limited season until 9 June 2007.
Highlights from the Whatsonstage.com discussion follow …
On opening a comedy about a school shooting days after the events at Virginia Tech
Rufus Norris: You’re seduced by the humour of the piece, but we’re not putting it on because it’s funny – the point is that it’s totally pertinent to our society. Virginia was a huge reminder of our duty to honour the spirits of victims.
Ray Shell: To me, being from America, it brought home just how real the events are and what those people must have gone through. We’re trying to bring the reality of that into the fantasy on stage.
On casting Colin Morgan, still in drama school, as Vernon
Rufus Norris: Good casting directors have their spies in many places. We did have to look pretty hard for that part and it took a long time. Colin was literally the last person we saw. There were two others who were alright but when Colin came in on the last day we knew we had our Vernon.
Colin Morgan: It was nice of DBC Pierre to say that he thought I really looked like Vernon. It was good casting I suppose.
On the production’s complex props & staging
Rufus Norris: Because of the rake and all the moving parts we had a week on the stage while it was still being built rather than the normal two days. A lot of changes happened during the previews, but we still didn’t get enough time really.
On the perception that the play may emotionally distance the audience
Rufus Norris: I’d never want to distance an audience. Most of the dancing and singing is because we like singing and dancing. There’s a terrific energy in the book, and you’ve got to find what the theatrical metaphor for that is. You could just do a play that isn’t a show but, being an adaptation of a novel, that would become very wordy. What’s unique about theatre is when it’s total engaging – to say otherwise is a bit worrying.
On novelist DBC Pierre’s involvement in the adaptation
Tanya Ronder: He’s done the most generous thing you can do, from my point of view, which is give us his blessing and leave us alone. He’s coming to see it for the first time tomorrow night but has already met the cast at rehearsals. He was very warm and thrilled to meet everyone. He wrote us a fantastic email after Virginia completely in the spirit of the book quoting the first line: “What kind of fucking life is this.” And I’ve been able to completely rely on him if I need some Mexican translation.
Rufus Norris: I think it’s a brilliant book, but the courtroom section is very tricky to stage and we had to do an awful lot of work on reordering and refocusing. It’ll be interesting to see what the boss says tomorrow.
- by Malcolm Rock