The Forest: Invading The Body Ostrovsky (1999)This article was written by Alan Ayckbourn for the programme for the National Theatre's production of Alan Ayckbourn's adaptation of Ostrovsky's The Forest.
Invading The Body Ostrovsky (National Theatre 1999 production programme note)
I am not one of life's natural adapters. Apart from a version of Henry Becque's Les Corveaux, which I adapted from a translation by Keele University's David Walker under the title Wolf At The Door, I have steered well clear of the idea. (Oh, yes, I did have fun with Evans' and Valentine's Tons Of Money, which I directed for the National a few years ago - but that's the sum total.)
The problem is, you see, where to stop. In a job where for most of the time the pleasure is in creating universes that you control absolutely, where characters live, love, laugh and cry and occasionally die at your behest, what on earth is the attraction of camping out in someone else's universe? In having to abide by his ground rules?
The prospect of potential carte blanche wasn't very much help, either. Armed with only the splendid literal translation by Vera Liber, I felt like a traveller with a very clear map but no real destination. Where eventually did I stop?
Like a virus, I was about to invade the body Ostrovsky. Was there a point, I wondered, when the virus raged so virulently and unchecked that it succeeded not in giving the host a fresh lease of life, but instead in killing him off completely?
I started cautiously, sticking as closely to Liber's translation as possible, altering as little as I could. The result was unsatisfactory. This closer crawl over the text had uncovered aspects of Ostrovsky that I'd only glimpsed before. I grew first to like him and respect him, then to love him. There was in his writing an irony, a wonderful mischievous humour, a love for his (mostly appalling) characters, a theatricality which convinced me to risk a full invasion. This was someone I would actually enjoy working with.
On my word processor, whilst saving the original under "Forest", I restarted a new document entitled "Trees". This was a contraction for the title I had privately invented for a worst-case eventuality: Wood For The Trees, a jolly Russian farce in five acts. Thereafter I chopped a lot of wood, but equally I did a lot of loving replanting.
I hope I judged it right and that I stopped in time. If not, he's still alive and well somewhere, filed under "Forest".
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn. Please do not reproduce without the permission of the copyright holder.