THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS
After several months of negotiating the rights, a week’s workshop with actors and writer Shaun Prendergast, and four weeks rehearsal, the world stage premiere of John Wyndham’s novel, ‘THE DAY OF THE TRIFFIDS’ opened at The New Wolsey Theatre in Ipswich… running from 8th to 30th April, 2005.
I had pitched the idea to Artistic Director Peter Rowe in 2004, and we had a hard time finding our ‘Bill Masen’, holding three separate casting days in London where normally we might expect just one. Shaun’s adaptation had the character of Bill played by two actors and the story told in flashback up to a tense moment in the narrative where we joined ‘real time’, so we had also to match our two actors. Ben Porter played the Bill having the adventures with Triffids, while Jaimie Bower played the older, wiser Bill. Both of them were lucky to have Kirsten Parker for the independently minded love interest, ‘Josella Playton’. Our cast of eight were committed and there was a real feeling of working together on something special.
Mat Clifford, who had designed and composed the music and sound effects on the West End’s ‘One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest’ composed a fantastic soundtrack for the play, as well as designing a very convincing Triffid sound effect played through speakers at front and back of the auditorium. Most effective as all the reviews commented.
I loved this production! We had combined my love of physical theatre and storytelling style with Peter Rowe’s experience in his own venue and directing text – a real co-direction, which is the decision we had made after the initial workshop. Plus, the set looked beautiful, having two levels, and some stunning metal-framed screens and furniture that allowed us to portray everything from a luxury flat to an old truck, with working lights!
My one regret is that it didn't either tour or play anywhere else. I am used to a production having ‘a life’ but this seems destined to have been a one-off – but it was a lot of fun!
"John Wyndham's The Day of the Triffids, published in 1951, was regarded as science fiction; but could now be seen in the same league as Wells and Orwell. All their works are effective for being set in drab, urban England. One of the strengths of Shaun Prendergast's adaptation (Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich) is that he does not update it, even though GM crops keep coming to mind, but keeps an Orwellian greyness. It as an old-fashioned, almost page by page adaptation of the novel; but interpreted with a sense of theatre.
Scenes are changed by the rapid deployment of hospital screens. Props are mimed. We never see the Triffids; but we hear them and feel their presence.
The hero, played by Jamie Bower, tells the story while his identically dressed younger self (Ben Porter) is on stage beside him. Kirsten Parker, twice a Charleson nominee, makes an impeccable heroine. Music and sound by Matt Clifford help to create the feeling of an anguished society falling apart. The direction, by Gavin Robertson and Peter Rowe, has energy and imagination, aided by a terrific cast.
This is one of the best things seen at the Wolsey".
"Adapting any novel for stage, especially a novel of global cataclysm like “The Day of the Triffids”, with its multitude of locations, its grand scale, its cast of thousands and its monsters, is a daunting task. Yet Shaun Prendergast’s script, combined with Peter Rowe and Gavin Robertson’s Direction, has created an absolutely electric piece that not only grasps the very soul of Wyndham’s most famous book, but manages to vividly recreate the images and atmosphere evoked by Wyndham’s prose.
The stated intention was to make the play filmic in quality, pace and style and he has certainly achieved this. The story is told by a slightly older Bill Mason, whose mysterious preparations punctuate his narration, and provide a compelling hook. Then, from the moment the hospital doors burst open and the younger Bill Mason is wheeled into the emergency room with his eyes bandaged from the triffid sting that saves him from the imminent global disaster, the pace gears up to locomotive pitch. The atmosphere, however, remains claustrophobic, drawing the whole theatre into the terrifying microcosm that reflects the greater horror that surrounds it.
Shaun Prendergast’s script is economical and razor-sharp. The whole play is slickly, flawlessly choreographed and has an almost balletic feel. Each scene seems to melt into the next. There are no delays, no gaps for scene changes, not a moment wasted. The scenery itself is sparse, much is left to the imagination, yet utterly convincing. One moment you are on the streets of London, then in a pub, then in a luxury flat in Mayfair, then in a plague-ridden, dying city, then on a lonely road, and each time you really are there.
The characters of Bill and Jocella are played with great sensitivity, developing and growing as the story progresses and quickly winning the audience’s sympathy. Bill, the shy, slightly awkward scientist suddenly yanked from the work that is his life, and into the world where he is confronted by a series of agonising and tragic moral dilemmas. Jocella is the self-sufficient, rebellious young woman, who nonetheless, is afraid and vulnerable. Their relationship is affecting and provides a strong core to the story. Their forced separation creates a tension, intense enough for the audience to will them on as they try to find one another again.
The other characters are also convincing and, in a few brief moments, either winning the audience’s affection or generating its enmity. There is much doubling-up of parts but this works well. The actors manage to convince in each of their many roles, so successfully in fact, that it is easy to forget that, for example, the authoritarian army officer and the pathetic old man are being played by the same cast member.
And then there are the triffids themselves.
Surely any attempt to create these creatures on stage would end up with some sort of pantomime monster. So, the most terrifying triffids of all were created, those summoned up by the audience’s imaginations. And it works. The triffids are there alright, huge, horrific, malevolent predators, sliding out of the shadows that border the stage, every bit as, if not more, menacing as any cgi-formed, blockbuster monster.
As with the novel, the play asks some unsettling questions; genetic engineering, Star Wars technology, and, most disturbing of all, the human condition. It presents the stark moral choices we would face in such a situation, it shows the raw, brutal truth about survival and what it would actually mean, both for the those lucky enough to be physically unscathed by disaster, and those who are its victims.
For anyone within 100 miles of Ipswich, “The Day of the Triffids” is an essential night out. For those further afield, a train ticket and a bed-and-breakfast would be well worth the expense. It is a truly memorable, electrifying and in many ways shattering piece of theatre that will both astonish and disturb. I defy anyone to walk away from it untouched."