Actor Jack Tarlton looks back on this year’s virtual theatre workshops Playing with Prose, introducing two new festive-themed plays created by participants.
As we approach Christmas in this strangest of years, it somehow feels right to present two short Christmas plays written in the heat of May and August by two creative partnerships in which the individual writers have yet to meet.
The plays were produced as part of the two Playing with Prose workshops that I led online with the Institute of Modern Languages Research, as part of the OWRI Cross-Language Dynamics project. After three days exploring a number of successful stage versions of well-known novels, the students were divided into smaller groups, and given a short story and three and half days in which to adapt it into a play-text. The scripts were then performed over Zoom by a group of actors. Both of the plays presented here are adapted from the work of two internationally renowned literary figures of the 19th century and acknowledged masters of the short story; Guy de Maupassant and Anton Chekhov.
Maupassant’s The Little Keg, adapted by Karoline Fløysvik and Maria Maciel, and Chekhov’s At Christmas Time, adapted by Shamila Chaudry and Alessandra De Martino, both capture the bittersweet experience of Christmas, with families attempting to reconnect and scenes of overindulgence. Both adaptations are thrillingly bold. The Little Keg subverts the narrative focus of the original, giving a marginalised older woman her voice back and allowing her to tell her own story. At Christmas Time updates the tale, and plays with staging and traditional representation of characters to great effect.
Until we are able to return to watching live performance again, these two plays serve as an exciting example of what can still be achieved by people working together and yet remotely, hundreds of miles apart. They represent not only the creative partnerships of their adaptors, but of all the 12 plays created by the participants of Playing with Prose online this year. Perhaps next year we will be able to see them staged. Until then, I hope you enjoy unwrapping and reading them.
A happy, safe and peaceful Christmas to all and very best wishes for the New Year.
Jack Tarlton is a Scottish actor, director and teacher. He has taught Shakespeare and modern drama studies and adapting prose and translating for the stage at the University of London, University of Buenos Aires, Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich, Oxford University, East 15 Acting School and for The Old Vic and Out of Joint, and was a Visiting Fellow at the Institute of Modern Languages Research, School of Advanced Study, University of London. He can be found on Twitter @jacktarlton.