Should Fantasy Epics stay out of the theatre?

So, on my lunch time perusal of twitsville, (or ‘twitter’ as it’s more commonly known) i came across an advert  for the Theatre Royal Plymouths’ interpretation of ‘The Hobbit’ by Tolkien… which started the fat hamster on the rusty wheel of my mind running his tooshy off to get the old cogs working… in other words, i pondered:

Bilbo checking out his ring.

Are Fantasy Epics suitable for portrayal in a theatrical medium?
I mean, let’s think about in terms of scale: how does one put such an epic on stage? What are the practicalities involved and how can they be overcome?
A live staging of ‘The Hobbit’ has to cope with: implying the long rambling journey of Mr Baggins and his companions, up mountains, through forests and across rivers; the large number of beasties, trolls and even a dragon to stage; and don’t even get me started on the number of very small beared men that surely have to be found…

There’s also the issue of word-count: let’s face it, ‘The Hobbit’ is no leaflet: the amount of editing involved when devising a script must be immense, and would surely have hard-core LOTR fans baying for man-flesh more than a pack of calorie-counting Goblins…

Of course, one has to admire the massive effort involved even in attempting to stage such a well known and popular epic. Especially when one considers the draw-backs theatre has to contend with: the first, budget- how much money you spend on Smaug compared to Bilbo’s hairy feet must be a contentious issue, and has to be dealt with due consideration. Secondly of course, being live, you’d naturally have a hard time using CGI to create breath-taking landscapes of the intricately described world Tolkien’s characters inhabit. I think therefore, in order to give such a show even a chance of success, you need the theatre company involved to meet the following criteria…

1) Superb Casting.
2) Beautiful, and apt musical scores.
3) Expansive scenery which is representational of far more than the space it actually occupies.
4) A script edit which maintains the authorial voice and fantastical essence of Tolkien’s work, without
sacrificing the audience’s attention span- if they get bored they might just end up poking a troll in the head to see what happens. We all know how touchy trolls can be.

This ain't no troll- but it's one grumpy cookie.

It’s unfortunate that i won’t get a chance to see the Theatre Royal Plymouth’s version of this epic, as i’d dearly love to see if my ponderings are even remotely accurate. However I’m reviewing another play on Saturday (can’t say what it is yet, top secret!) which i’m very much looking forward to. (Despite the lack of small hairy men). My final word on the subject is i suppose: good on you Theatre Royal Plymouth for having the goolies to stage such an expansive narrative. Hopefully your efforts will guide some audience members to the books themselves, and promote a continuing appreciation of Tolkien’s literary masterpieces.


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