Ten times Australian stage plays were transformed into films. By Caris Bizzaca.
Although the past year has seen a swarm of Australian films based on stage plays, The Daughter director Simon Stone says this is a longstanding tradition.
“If you look at the birth of cinema in the 10s and 20s, half the films that were getting made were based on plays,” he says.
“They were just plays that nobody even knows about anymore… and actually what you remember is the Hollywood film created out of it.
“Way more films than you or anyone might imagine are based on plays.”
The Daughter is adapted from Stone’s contemporary reinvention of Henrik Ibsen’s 1884 play The Wild Duck.
It comes after the recent release of plays-turned-films including Ruben Guthrie, Holding the Man and Last Cab to Darwin.
Stone suggests maybe people are doing it prolifically in Australia at the moment because the current crop of filmmakers have their roots as actors in theatre.
“When you look at Brendan Cowell (Ruben Guthrie), Jeremy Sims (Last Cab to Darwin) or me, the reason we’re doing that is we’ve been… working in that world (so) it makes sense to use the material that you know well.”
For actor Ewen Leslie, who appeared in both The Daughter and The Wild Duck, there are two reasons for the surge.
“Usually the scripts are really well developed. They’ve gone through a development period and (also) they’ve been proven with an audience,” he says.
“This story worked very well as The Wild Duck in Sydney, Melbourne, Oslo, Vienna and London. It’s had a resonance with audiences so I suppose people have a bit more faith in funding them and turning them into films.”
Here are 10 other times stage plays have found a new life on cinema screens.
RUBEN GUTHRIE (2015)
Based on Brendan Cowell’s loosely autobiographical play of the same name, which he adapted to the big screen for his directorial debut. It stars Patrick Brammall in the titular role as a successful ad man who vows to give up the booze and his hedonistic lifestyle to win back his fiancée.
Australian author and playwright Louis Nowra adapted his 1993 Belvoir St Theatre play for the film directed by Rachel Perkins (who also helmed no. 3 Bran Nue Dae). It starred Deborah Mailman, Rachel Maza and Trisha Morton-Thomas as three sisters who are reunited at their childhood home after the death of their mother and forced to confront ghosts of the past.
BRAN NUE DAE (2009)
A feature film adaptation of the 1990 stage musical by Jimmy Chi, it was co-written by Reg Cribb and director Rachel Perkins. An exuberant coming-of-age musical set in the 60s, it starred Rocky McKenzie as a teenager who runs away from boarding school in Perth and sets off on a road trip back home to Broome. The ensemble cast also featured Geoffrey Rush, Ernie Dingo, Missy Higgins and Jessica Mauboy in her feature film debut.
STRICTLY BALLROOM (1992)
The film that kicked off Baz Luhrmann’s film career began life as a 25-minute play in 1984 while he was studying at the National Institute of Dramatic Art (NIDA). Years later it made its world premiere at Cannes Film Festival in 1992 and became the first of the director’s ‘Red Curtain’ trilogy. It has since gone full circle, returning to the stage for the Strictly Ballroom The Musical.
Adapted by writer Andrew Bovell from his play Speaking in Tongues, which premiered at Griffin Theatre Company in 1996, this relationship drama followed four couples whose lives begin to unravel after the discovery of a young woman’s body. Directed by Ray Lawrence, it starred thespians including Anthony Lapaglia, Geoffrey Rush and Kerry Armstrong.
LAST CAB TO DARWIN (2015)
Last year’s hit road movie starring Michael Caton (who won an AACTA for his stirring performance) began as a 2003 stage play by Reg Cribb, who co-wrote it for the screen with director Jeremy Sims. It follows the story of a Broken Hill taxi driver, who’s told he doesn’t have long to live and decides to drive across the country to Darwin to die on his own terms.
HOLDING THE MAN (2015)
Initially a memoir by Timothy Conigrave, it was adapted for Belvoir Theatre in 2006 by playwright Tommy Murphy, who then rewrote it for the screen. Directed by Neil Armfield, it tracked the moving 15-year love story of Tim and John (played by Ryan Corr and Craig Stott), who first fell for each other as teenagers in the mid-1970s.
THE SAPPHIRES (2012)
Based on a true story, which Tony Briggs wrote for the 2004 stage play and later turned into a screenplay with Keith Thompson, this toe-tapping musical drama starred Jessica Mauboy, Deborah Mailman, Miranda Tapsell and Shari Sebbens as the four women of The Sapphires – an indigenous all-girl soul group who were sent to entertain the US troops in Vietnam in 1968.
Adapted by Nick Enright from his 1995 play for Sydney Theatre Company, the film was directed by Steven Vidler and starred Laurence Breuls as Jared, a teenage boy torn between truth and loyalty after a 15-year-old girl is gang-raped and murdered – her body found on the beach the night after Jared throws a party for a mate.
DON’S PARTY (1976)
The iconic Australian film started out as an iconic Australian plays in 1971. Both written by David Williamson, the film was directed by Bruce Beresford and set during the 1969 federal election, when Don (John Hargreaves) holds a party at his home to celebrate what he hopes will be a Labor victory. It’s also not the only one of prolific writer Williamson’s plays to make it to the big screen, with others including Travelling North, Brilliant Lies and The Club.