Do Plays Work as Films?

Do Plays Work as Films?


Lest we remember, The History Boys

Many playwrights also write films scripts such as Mike Leigh and Martin McDonagh, and some plays are recorded either for NT Live or for digitaltheatre.com. Plays that are adapted into films are becoming more and more popular. There are the obvious such as Shakespeare (Hamlet has been played by over 200 different actors), and the less obvious such as ‘Glengarry Glen Ross’, ‘Carnage’ and Alan Bennett’s ‘The History Boys’. The play ran at the National Theatre in London from May 2004 until April 2005. The film was released in 2006 and used the same cast at the play and the same director. Having never had the pleasure of seeing ‘The History Boys’, I can only judge the script based on the film.

One thing that can be achieved on film but not on stage is location, location, location, after location. I was quite surprised at how short each scene was. However, without knowing or read the stage play, I cannot assume this was a choice made by the director to make the film more dynamic. The audience are shown the world of the Cutler’s Grammar School and its fine architecture. In many aspects, the film highlights the details.

The play had a massive run at the National and tour that included Hong Kong, New Zealand and New York. With the eight young actors being in such high demand, it made perfect sense to adapt it into a film. The family created after three years together was already in place so the film was made in just 30 days. The actors admitted that it was hard to forget the style of the play and act for the camera, but they understood their characters inside and outside, and that is what shines on screen.

An audience that has never seen the play don’t know what they’re missing. I see the film as an achievement separate from the National Theatre. Those that was lucky enough to see it and experience with the original cast will have witnessed history being made.

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