A couple of days after finishing the novel, we went to see the production of Nation at the National Theatre, as adapted by Mark Ravenhill. It was a preview, so the finished play may be slightly better, but as it was, it was absolutely superb. One of the main reasons I’d wanted to go was reading the book, thinking, ‘Well, they’d never be able to do that on stage’ – not just shipwrecks, underwater tussles, and exotic wildlife, but basic practicalities like fact that the first few chapters of the book concern a character on his own with nobody to talk to.
Have to say, the production confounded my expectations and founds way of turning each of these problems into a highlight, through the use of ingenious staging, lighting, back projection and puppetry. The tidal wave is terrifying. The parrot is hilarious. The grandfather birds are sinister (a little Dark Crystal). And the songs are catchy (though I’m not sure why Twinkle Twinkle Little Star required a new melody).
I was surprised by how faithful it was. Each time I thought, ‘Oh, well, they’ll have to cut that bit... no, they’re doing that bit too’. It was extremely fast-paced and packed an emotional punch. The only significant difference from the novel was in the ordering of events, shifting the order of scenes to be more chronological, so we see stuff that happens to characters which is only related after-the-fact in the novel. The villain also has more complex motivation. Oh, and a character who is largely silent in the novel is given some lines. The only omission I really missed was the message written by the axe in the tree; ‘men help other men’, which kind of sets up the themes of the whole story. I’d stick that back in.
But I loved it. Blog readers, rush out and buy tickets now.