John Tiffany's National Theatre of Scotland production of Andrew O’Hagan book
‘The passage of time has been really necessary. I needed to get some distance,’ says Andrew O’Hagan. He is referring to the 14 years which have passed since John Tiffany (then literary manager at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, now associate director of the National Theatre of Scotland) first proposed a theatre adaptation of his debut book, the acclaimed non-fiction piece The Missing.
The book, which was first published in 1995, was inspired by the uncovering in 1994 of the appalling crimes of Fred and Rosemary West in Gloucester. A journey from the south-western Scotland of O’Hagan’s youth in the 1970s, through Britain in the 80s, it received many plaudits for the profundity and humanity of its contemplation of the issue of missing people.
O’Hagan has now adapted it for the stage. Tiffany will direct the piece for the National Theatre of Scotland, and, fascinatingly (in collaboration with the Scottish National Portrait Gallery), acclaimed visual artist Graham Fagen will create an accompanying video installation.
For O’Hagan, who took a ‘backseat’ role during the creation of the NTS’ 2009 staging of his novel Be Near Me (adapted by its lead actor Ian McDiarmid and directed by Tiffany), the process of staging The Missing has been very different. O’Hagan has found the experience of adapting his book to be an enriching one. ‘I’ve worked through every scene very carefully with John Tiffany, and, day-by-day, throughout the seven-week rehearsal period, I’ve been working very closely with the actors, making sure that all the power that I know resides there can be mined … It’s a great company effort, and I’m thrilled to be involved.’
For his part, Tiffany feels he has overcome his 14-year-old fear of this deeply affecting material. ‘It’s something about absence and people who aren’t there anymore; it’s got real theatrical fuel. I suppose it was a question of getting the courage to find a theatrical language for that, without needing to “dramatise” it. It will be dramatic, but I don’t feel the need to make it into a well-made play.’
Tramway, Glasgow, Wed 21 Sep–Sat 1 Oct; Graham Fagen’s Missing is at Tramway, Tue 13 Sep–Sun 2 Oct