We are all familiar with book to film adaptations - probably even more familiar than many of us realise, as it isn’t too uncommon for the reputation of the film to supersede that of its mother text. Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones went from bestselling book to a film directed by Peter Jackson (known for the Lord of the Rings trilogy), and has now followed this transformation with another: book to play.
Adaptation both opens and closes numerous creative doors for the adaptor when taking a narrative and plonking it down in a brand new medium. The adaptor - in this case, Bryony Lavery - is faced with the challenge of remodelling the narrative world in a practical way. The Lovely Bones contains many supernatural elements, as its protagonist spends the majority of the story in heaven watching her family dealing with the grief of her death. When interviewed by Holly Williams, Lavery explained how she is delighted to be presented with such challenges. ‘I love it. I get to be the junior writer to great writers. But the main thrill is to make it a theatrical-shaped piece of work rather than a novel, and each one has different problems and different joys.’ Here, Lavery engages with the whole host of technical “working out” that comes with adaptation. It is more technical than straightforward narrative creation, because it isn't a case of sculpting something brand new, but of remoulding something that already exists, being frightfully sure you don’t break it along the way. Having seen Lavery’s adaptation of The Lovely Bones, I can assure you - she keeps it well intact.
One may think that an author would be nervous at the prospect of someone else taking their artistic child out of their arms and raising it themselves in a whole new way. But for Sebold, allowing someone to adapt her work is intriguing. ‘For me, it’s going to be amazing to see: how do they have different levels, heaven and earth, and the various places that are in the novel? How do they make it real, but not too real? That’s one of the reasons why I think theatre can be fascinating: there are lots of imaginative recesses for the audience to fill.’
Adaptation doesn’t come without its constraints and frustrations, but both Lavery and Sebold see these frustrations as exciting. They see the thrill in problem-solving, and the fresh breath of opportunities that every adaptation breathes into a piece.