ONE OF THE OPENING events in the Flock to Ossett arts and crafts festival is a rehearsed reading in Holy Trinity church of John Godber’s new adaptation of Stan Barstow’s novel A Kind of Loving. It works well with just six actors – two playing Vic and Ingrid and the other four taking all the other roles; a dozen or more characters.
As with the novel, the story is told from Vic’s point of view; he’s the only character who can break into a scene and tell the audience how he feels about the way things are going. That’s something that you miss out on in John Schlesinger’s film version and in the television adaptation that Stan himself made in the 1980s. The dramatic device of talking directly to the audience doesn’t fit well with the kind of everyday realism that a director needs to create as a believable setting for the the story in a screen version but on stage you’re not in the actual locations, so the audience is already having to use its imagination to picture the characters on a bus, in a drawing office, in the park and so on, so there isn’t the same jolt that you might get if a character turned to the camera and explained how they felt in a gritty northern drama.
This limitation must have occurred to Schlesinger because his next film was about another young man working in a northern city, Billy Liar, but in that we keep drifting into the alternative reality, a minor European principality, that the hero keeps escaping to in his imagination.
Introducing the read-through, Godber explains that he took all the dialogue he needed directly from the novel, adding only a handful of words of his own, but there’s a Godber feel to this adaptation in the pace, the ensemble playing, the vividly sketched characters and the humour.
But really that’s all in the original novel too. I think that the reason that I hadn’t realised, for example, that there was so much humour in the novel, humour that comes from observation of character, was that I read it when I was Vic’s age -about 21. The main thing that I took away then was how easily Vic went from being free and independent, with all sorts of ambitions in his life, to seeing control of his life slipping away as others, particularly to his mother-in-law who is truly scary but not in a pantomime villain kind of way.
At twenty one, just starting at the Royal College of Art and with no clue as to how I’d support myself through my work, let alone a surprise instant family and mortgage, it read like a cautionary horror story.
I can see the wider picture now and smile, even while I’m sympathising with Vic and Ingrid’s dilemma.