Knowing your ACBs

By Dionne Christian

Lauren Gibson plays Perry and Ginette McDonald is Gran in The ACB with Honora Lee, a stage adaptation of Kate De Goldi's book. Photo / Tabitha Arthur
Lauren Gibson plays Perry and Ginette McDonald is Gran in The ACB with Honora Lee, a stage adaptation of Kate De Goldi's book. Photo / Tabitha Arthur

For many authors, the prospect of having their books adapted for the stage or screen can be daunting.

Though it might also be flattering, there are inevitable concerns: How will the story be changed? What subtleties and nuances may be omitted? What of beloved characters? Will they be the way the author imagined?

Award-winning author Kate De Goldi didn't hesitate to give permission when she learned a stage adaptation of her book The ACB with Honora Lee was in the offing.

Illustrated by Gregory O'Brien and published in 2012, the book follows the relationship between young Perry and her eccentric gran, Honora Lee, who lives in an old folks' home, populated by endearing characters.

De Goldi says she had "absolutely no difficulty" with theatre-maker Jane Waddell adapting the story, and acknowledges that might make her a little unusual. But she says when one publishes a book, there will be as many interpretations of the story as there are readers, so an author automatically surrenders an element of control.

"It's been said before that's the marvellous thing about art; it's always completed by the consumer."

Rather than be hesitant or wary, De Goldi is amazed and delighted, partly because she has no expectations her stories will have a life beyond books.

"It was lovely to know someone saw the potential but I'm also surprised that people want to adapt them to what is primarily a visual medium," she says. "My work is quite interior and The ACB is also hugely about language, so I was also very impressed that someone could see how it could make the leap to another medium.

"Of course, you have to have confidence in the people doing the adaptation and I feel Jane is a person of insight and integrity but ultimately, you can't have any misgivings about it because that's just the way things work."

Waddell happened across Honora Lee two years ago, when she adapted it for reading on Radio New Zealand. Describing it as enchanting, she says it had the perfect mix of humour and poignancy. She started playing with how to make the story work on stage but told no one what she was doing until she'd written the first draft.

It is the first time she has adapted a book for the theatre so, once confident she could take the story to the stage, Waddell contacted De Goldi.

"Kate was thrilled and has been very supportive ever since. We had a clinic - it used to be called a workshop - with some funding from Playmarket New Zealand and Kate came along to discuss the story with us and to answer our questions about it."

In turn, De Goldi was intrigued to hear the questions actors raised, and says she feels it is important to give them as much information as she could to explain the origins of ideas and characters.

"Readers always come up with questions that make you think, because you have to think past your rational reasoning for doing things, to go into your subconscious."

Now up to draft four, with adjustments being made during rehearsals, Waddell says her initial treatment was too close to the book.

She has learned to "divorce herself" from it, omitting some characters and strengthening the presence of Perry's parents.

Though acknowledging that keeping the parents remote was a deliberate decision on De Goldi's part, she says an audience wants to see the interaction, rather than have it reported to them.

She has heightened one event to ensure there's a suitably dramatic incident to bring Perry and Gran closer together, but she has been careful to keep some of the story's more symbolic elements.

Much is made of Perry and younger friend Claude collecting dead bees, a metaphor for learning about death. Because Perry paints throughout the story, a child has been recruited to produce artwork, which will be animated.

The team working on the adaptation also includes dramaturge Rachel Callinan, who has worked with Wellington-based Capital E: National Theatre for Children and Auckland Theatre Company on page-to-the-stage adaptations.

Waddell is confident they've managed to evoke Perry's world and stay true to the essence of the story. She says it's an intergenerational tale of love and acceptance, which will appeal to those aged 8 and older.

The ACB with Honora Lee stars Ginette McDonald as Gran and Lauren Gibson as Perry.

What's on at Circa

The ACB with Honora Lee is part of the New Zealand Festival in Wellington; Circa One from February 26 - March 26. As part of the Festival's Writers Week and to celebrate its 40th birthday, Circa celebrates 100 New Zealand playwrights in Spotlight on Playwrights. Panel discussions, displays and a reading of Anthony McCarten's novel Funnygirl are on the programme, March 11-13.

- Weekend magazine

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf05 at 01 Oct 2016 13:27:44 Processing Time: 896ms