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Michael Chaplin On ... Adapting Mullin's Walk on Part

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A Walk On Part, Michael Chaplin's stage adaptation of the political diaries of former Labour MP Chris Mullin, opens at the Soho Theatre tonight (18 November 2011) in a co-production with Newcastle's Live Theatre.

Directed by Max Roberts, A Walk-On Part features John Hodgkins as Mullin and gives an inside look into the last decade in politics.

Here, Chaplin discusses the process of adapting the diaries for the stage.

The published diaries of former Labour MP for Sunderland South Chris Mullin run to more than 1500 pages. The three volumes actually weigh in at two and a half kilos.

This was the scale of the task I took on earlier this year when I agreed--with alacrity--to adapt the diaries for the stage. Let’s just say I had a difficult first morning.

Years ago I stumbled across the diaries of sometime-MP Harold Nicholson, husband of the more famous writer and gardener, Vita Sackville-West. Nicholson was a friend of the great and good, Winston Churchill included, and recorded what they were thinking and feeling as they grappled with the crises of the 30s and 40s. He tells the story of his growing family and writes unsparingly of his feelings of disappointment as his political career runs into the sand. The diaries are superbly written, and it is this that draws me back to them time and again.

It was with delight therefore that I discovered in Chris Mullin a contemporary diarist of similar stature, who has shone a penetrating light into our own darkening times. As the reviewers have pointed out en masse, his diaries offer a wry, sometimes angry and always entertaining insight into the momentous last decade and a half--the slow implosion of New Labour, the collapse of public trust in our Parliamentary system, the great financial crash and somewhere out there, sundry messy wars and an increasingly insecure world.

They do not merely chronicle the febrile village of Westminster, but range across the increasingly broken continent of Africa Mullin toured as a Foreign Office minister and the fragile constituency he served as an MP. The diary slips effortlessly between these worlds and others, including the family home, as the Mullin children grow and flourish. Through it all, we hear the wise, witty and sometimes lacerating voice of the diarist himself. A source not just for the playwright, but the historian.

In truth it would have been possible to write five plays using entirely different material from the diaries. But I made my choice, hunting down what seemed the stories of these years, confident they will make a compelling evening in the theatre, based on what I felt was important, what was funny and sad and humane, and in particular what spoke of the strange times we have just lived through.

So prepare to meet Tony Blair and John Prescott, an inspirational Sunderland head-teacher and a choleric Durham taxi-driver, wave at George W. Bush, get to know the President of Ethiopia, a lost boy named Sasha, and a decent man called Chris Mullin.

- Michael Chaplin


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