Running on the Cracks from page to stage: Adapting

Adapting a novel for the stage demands both a rigorous and creative approach to reading – one that depends upon a solid understanding of the vital aspects of the story and its characters, as well as an ability to visualise different ways of representing this onstage. 

The Tron Theatre Company have spent the last year or so working with Pilot Theatre (York) to bring Julia Donaldson’s Running on the Cracks to a full production and tour. Venturing into darker territory than her more familiar work for younger audiences, the story draws on her experiences of family mental health issues.  It’s a novel that appealed to our Artistic Director as ripe for adaptation for a number of reasons. The story is set largely in Glasgow, so is directly relevant to the majority of our audience, while the key characters are compelling and likeable, and sufficiently well developed to exist outwith the narrative. 

Some novelists work in a style which particularly lends itself to adaptation, and Running on the Cracks provides well-paced dialogue that makes for a more straightforward transfer to stage.  Tron Artistic Director Andy Arnold says ‘a play tends to reduce everything down to the essential elements, and tends to be dialogue driven. If the book has sufficient dialogue – and this is key for me – then the task of writing it as a play script is made a lot easier, although it still needs a lot of manipulation to make it work. If I consider a novel to have the potential as a play then I tend to read it with a theatre director’s eye – imagining the story as a series of pictures on stage and focusing on the characters necessary to inhabit it as a play.’

What is most important is that the book has to be adapted in such a way that it becomes a piece of theatre in its own right rather than trying to be the novel on stage. This means making a number of choices concerning the content. Generally about 10% of a novel will end up in a play script. 

The central idea behind Running on the Cracks – the story of a runaway pursued by the police – is retained, and the relationships between key characters remain the same. But practical constraints of the theatre inform many of the decisions to adapt and change elements, so one character has been absorbed into another, and actors double up to play other characters. Creative embellishments on the novel are largely intended to make the story a little darker, so as to fit with the slightly older audience of S1/S2 audience.

Andy adds that: ‘One of the most important choices was to leave the ending more open than in the novel because theatre works differently to fiction. I would like a theatre audience to go away thinking and asking questions about what they've seen.’

Check out our other blog from the Tron Theatre explaining how to approach the challenge of adapting a novel for the stage.


Ailie MacDonald

Ailie MacDonald is Press and Marketing Officer at the Tron Theatre. She has previously worked for Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature and Aberdeen University’s Word Writers Festival, and also worked as a Writer Development Intern for Scottish Book Trust.