10 Iconic Australian Novels Adapted For The Stage
Cloudstreet will grace the stage this Perth Festival in a performance that will concrete the iconic story into the minds and hearts of the west coast once again.
Inspired by the immense adaptation that is forthcoming, we explored some of the best Australian novels that have been re-invigorated for the stage.
Merry Go-Round In the Sea, 1965 – Randolph Stow
The novel follows the story of a boy (Rob Coram) and his cousin Rick, beginning in 1941 in Geraldton when Rob is six and his idol, Rick, is sent off to war. By the time Rick has returned home after spending time as a prisoner of war, Rob's view of the world has drastically changed and his childhood has ended.
Adapted by Black Swan Theatre in 1997 by Andrew Ross and Dickon Oxenburg, the adaptation presented by Perth Festival was an accurate, moving interpretation of West Australian writer Randolph Stow's autobiographical novel of his childhood in wartime Geraldton, featuring musical direction from current Artistic Director Iain Grandage.
The Secret River, 2005 – Kate Grenville
In 1806 William Thornhill, a man of quick temper and deep feelings, is transported from the slums of London to New South Wales for the term of his natural life. With his wife Sal and their children he arrives in a harsh land he cannot understand, which is already occupied by First Nations people.
Three of Australia’s most sought-after artists, director Neil Armfield (Keating! The Musical, Cloudstreet), writer Andrew Bovell (Lantana, When the Rain Stops Falling) and artistic associate Stephen Page (The Sapphires, Bran Nue Dae) came together for the first time in 2013 to adapt the prize-winning novel for the stage. Co-commissioned by Perth Festival with music written by our very own Artistic Director Iain Grandage, the performance is about to tour in Edinburgh and the National Theatre in the UK.
The Rabbits, 1998 - John Marsden
The Rabbits is a partly metaphoric fable about colonisation, told from the viewpoint of the colonised. An unseen narrator describes the coming of ‘rabbits’ in minimal detail, an encounter that is at first friendly and curious, but later darkens as it becomes apparent that the visitors are actually invaders.
An extraordinary production adapted in 2015 for Perth Festival, The Rabbitsbrought together an outstanding Australian creative team, featuring award-winning vocalist Kate Miller-Heidke lead a cast of singers and musicians, performing her own compositions and Lally Katz’s exceptional libretto, with additional music from Perth Festival’s current Artistic Director Iain Grandage.
Cloudstreet, 1991 – Tim Winton
From separate catastrophes two rural families flee to the city and find themselves sharing a great, ageing home called Cloudstreet, where they begin their lives again from scratch.
Adapted for the stage by Nick Enright and Justin Monjo, the theatrical adaptation opened in Sydney in January 1998 under the direction of Neil Armfield, produced by Company B and Black Swan Theatre for the Sydney Festival. Seasons followed in Perth, Melbourne, London, Dublin, New York and Washington DC. A lengthy adaptation at 5 and a half hours, the play attracted rave reviews around the world.
Storm Boy, 1966 – Colin Thiele
Storm Boy is the story of a boy who discovers three chicks after their pelican mother is shot, and begins nursing them back to health. He names them Mr Proud, Mr Ponder and Mr Percival. After he releases them, his favourite, Mr Percival, returns. The story soon changes focus to the conflict between his lifestyle and the externally imposed requirement for him to attend a school, and the fate of the pelican.
The Bell Shakespeare Company toured Storm Boy in Australia in 1996, with The Sydney Theatre Company performing Tom Holloway's stage adaptation in 2013 and 2015 in collaboration with Perth's Barking Gecko Theatre Company.
Jasper Jones, 2009 – Craig Silvey
Late on a balmy, summer night in 1965, Charlie Bucktin, a reserved young teenager, hears an urgent knock on the window of his sleep-out. His visitor is Jasper Jones, an outcast in the regional mining town of Corrigan. Rebellious, mixed-race and solitary, Jasper is a source of intrigue for Charlie. When Jasper begs for his help, Charlie joins him to commence a journey
Adapted by Kate Mulvaney, Craig Silvey’s popular novel was originally commissioned and premiered by West Australian company Barking Gecko in 2014. Since then, two new performances of the adaptation have been created, one in early 2016 by Belvoir St Theatre and one in mid-2016 by the Melbourne Theatre Company – the small gap in productions speaking to the quality and relevance of the novel to our time.
Picnic at Hanging Rock, 1967 – Joan Lindsay
In 1900, a class of young women from an exclusive private school go on an excursion to the isolated Hanging Rock, deep in the Australian bush. The excursion ends in tragedy when three girls and a teacher mysteriously vanish after climbing the rock. Only one girl returns, with no memory of what has become of the others...
Malthouse Theatre under the direction of Matthew Lutton (our upcoming Cloudstreet director) took on Tom Wright’s chilling adaptation of Joan Lindsay’s creation in 2016, offering a surreal and subversive take on the Aussie classic. After sell-out seasons in Melbourne and Edinburgh, the play returned to Melbourne for an encore season before heading to the Barbican in London.
Seven Little Australians, 1894 – Ethel Turner
Judy’s father, Captain Woolcot, found his vivacious, cheeky daughter impossible – but seven children were really too much for him and most of the time they ran wild at their rambling riverside home, Misrule.
The book was adapted into a stage play in 1914 by Beaumont Smith and a musical theater adaptation ran in Melbourne and Sydney from 1988, with the play now a popular production for Australian high schools and musical societies.
The Magic Pudding, 1918 – Norman Lindsay
The timeless classic follows the adventures of debonair young koala Bunyip Bluegum, sailor Bill Barnacle and penguin Sam Sawnoff – owners of the much-desired Magic Puddin’ Albert – who try to out-wit Possum and Wombat, the professional, and extraordinarily persistent, puddin’-thieves.
Adapted by Peter Scriven in 1960 as a puppet show (for which the original author Norman Lindsay created 40 drawings, the marionette Theatre of Australia toured the performance around Australia in 1988. In 2010, the adaptation was presented once again, this time by Marian Street Theatre for Young People predominantly using actors (not puppets). The Victorian Opera then presented The Magic Pudding – The Opera in 2013.
The Harp in the South, 1984 – Ruth Park
The Harp in the South explores the life of Hugh and Margaret Darcy, a Catholic Irish Australian couple raising their family in Sydney suburb Surry Hills, where money is scarce and life is not easy.
Ruth Park collaborated with Leslie Rees to adapt the novel for the stage in 1949, presented by Independent Theatre in Sydney. Kate Mulvany went on to create another adaptation in 2018, turning the play into a six-hour performance over two parts. It was first produced by Sydney Theatre Company under the direction of Kip Williams.