Dramatisation

Joseph Andrews - the movie 1977
Henry Fielding

Joseph Andrews: taking liberties with a novel

It is often necessary to take considerable liberties with the structure of a novel, in order to convey the essence of the work to the listener in an engaging and compelling manner. The experience of reading, where one can close or open a book or go back or skim forward, is very different from that of listening to the continuum of a radio play. Dramatists cannot afford to be as discursive as novelists. Also the beginning of a dramatisation is crucial. While one can read oneself slowly into a novel, this cannot be the case with a dramatisation.

One of the first English novels, Joseph Andrews by Henry Fielding, begins: ‘It is a trite but true observation, that examples work more forcibly on the mind than precepts: and if this be just in what is odious and blameable, it is more strongly so in what is amiable and praiseworthy.’ It is assumed by the author, that the reader has all the time in the world to share his reflections, before getting caught up in the story. The dramatisation on the other hand needs either to project the listener into an involving story or at least to entertain him from the outset.

In his dramatisation of Joseph Andrews, John Scotney decided to give us some of Fielding’s more entertaining philosophising on the subject of chastity; before plunging us into the story. This also allowed us to participate in the authorial voice, an important element in this novel, and to gain something of the flavour of the period. Here is the beginning:
Henry Fielding
John Scotney
Parson Adams
Lady Booby
Actresses

(TECHNICAL NOTE: THE PRODUCTION SHOULD BE SEAMLESS. THEREFORE THE SCENES SIMPLY INDICATE POSSIBLE RECORDING BREAKS. OFTEN FX AND BACKGROUND FROM A PREVIOUS SCENE WILL TUCK UNDER SPEECH FROM A FOLLOWING SCENE)

ANNOUNCER: ‘Joseph Andrews’ by Henry Fielding, dramatised in four episodes by John Scotney.

(MUSIC: A LIVELY AND HUMOROUS EIGHTEENTH CENTURY PASTICHE)

FIELDING (as NARRATOR): The first part, which treats of the death of Sir Thomas Booby, with the affectionate and mournful behaviour of his widow and the great chastity of Joseph.
ACTRESS 1: (Fervently respectful) Chastity!
ACTRESS 2: (ditto) Chastity!
PARSON ADAMS: (ditto) Ah, yes. Chastity!
ACTRESS 1: (Fervently respectful) Chastity!

(SEVERAL OTHER LADIES WITH…)

LADY BOOBY: (Mocking) What!
FIELDING: Nay, is not male chastity as becoming to the human species as female? Yet the character of a chaste man is a thing few authors among the moderns have seen fit to dwell upon.
ACTRESS 1: Whilst female chastity is everywhere to be found, at least in the book shops.
ACTRESS 2: (Catty) Who has not heard of the celebrated chastity of sweet, dear, pretty Pamela Andrews?
ACTOR: So admirably recorded by Mr. Samuel Richardson in his ‘Pamela’.
ACTRESS 2: (Over-sweetly) Or – Virtue Rewarded.’/td>

(NEXT FEW SPEECHES ARE HYPOCRITICALLY PRURIENT)

ACTRESS 1: Pamela, a pretty fifteen-year old, servant girl, artlessly sets down how she virtuously resisted all manner of lewd and lustful assaults by her master – including an attempted rape,
ACTOR 2: Which she describes in some detail.
ACTRESS 1: Until defeated at last by her chastity, her master offered her the joy of becoming his wife.
ACTRESS 2: And so was able legitimately to enjoy those attentions,

(LADIES BEGIN TO LAUGH)

ACTRESS 2: he had so often attempted to enforce on her in vain.
ACTOR 1: Such a theme is the soul of religion, good breeding (UNCTUOUS) and morality in our present age; and the pulpit as well as the coffee house has resounded with Pamela’s praise.
ACTOR 2: But what of her brother?
JOSEPH: Mr. Joseph Andrews, who by keeping his sister’s virtues ever before his eyes,
ADAMS: and attending to the wise advice of the Reverend Mr. Abraham Adams
JOSEPH: was also able to preserve his chastity in the face of as many and as great temptations as were placed before his sister.
ACTOR 1: To correct the which omission we now present before the public the authentic:

(A COMIC CHORD OR TWO OF MUSIC)

FIELDING: History of the Adventures of Joseph Andrews and his friend, Mr. Abraham Adams, as faithfully recorded by your servant, Mr Henry Fielding, Gent.

(UNDER THE END OF PREVIOUS SPEECH ESTABLISH THE JOYFUL PEELING OF ENGLISH CHURCH BELLS AND RUSTICS MURMURING ‘YOUR HONOUR’)

FIELDING: Our history opens in the year of Grace, 1737, upon a Sunday morning in summer

(ADD BIRDSONG)

FIELDING: as Parson Adams walks through the churchyard, receiving the bows and salutations of his flock –
And so the play has started and the story proper may now begin. Several points have been established in this opening passage:
  1. John Scotney introduced the full title and the eighteenth century flavour of the novel without its seeming too long.
  2. We are informed that the novel was intended as a satire upon the recently published, ‘first’ English novel, Pamela by Samuel Richardson.
  3. The author, Henry Fielding, will be the narrator.
  4. However he will share this function with his main characters, who will often introduce and describe themselves, as do Joseph and Adams and a voice we may later recognise as Lady Booby’s. This convention echoes Fielding’s style of making asides.
  5. The opening scene has been introduced.

The Flower Room

As part of your mastering English you can dramatise fact as well of fiction. I dramatised a famous Chinese singer, Erche Namu’s, biography Leaving Mother Lake but changed the title, to one that I felt was more intriguing. The Flower Room was a five episode serial for BBC Radio that I recorded on location in China for singing and sound effects and chanting, and then back in London I directed English speaking Chinese actors. My editor helped me to assemble it. You too could achieve such a programme on any subject that enthuses you.

As you read and listen to the scene imagine your own pictures. They may be quite different and more vivid and colourful than the images below.

Ama, Namu's Mother, with Shaun, the audio director
The Mountain of the Goddess, Gamu
Lige Village Lake Lugu
Mosuo Monks Chanting
Shaun with Mosuo singers
Mosuo singers dancing at night
Young Communists
Namu's birthplace, now a museum
A bar operated by Namu in Lijiang

(SOUND OF A ROWING BOAT AND GIRL SINGING IN THE MOSO LANGUAGE)

NAMU:

My Ama doesn’t remember when I was born. She doesn’t remember the year or the month or the day. All she knows is that I cried too much.

(FADE ROWING AND SINGING)

AMA:

From the moment you were born, you were trouble

(TRADITIONAL CHANTING TO HELP THE BIRTH)

NAMU:

But the mountains were already white, so she knew that it was early winter, when the boy in her stomach refused to come out. Her friend Dujema gave her a dried corncob to bite on.

AMA:

Ooooh! A boy is worth the pain.

(SOUNDS OF AMA PUSHING, THEN BABY NAMU CRYING)

NAMU:

My Ama groaned louder and gave a big push.

DUJEMA:

It’s a big head, a boy’s head.

NAMU:

Dujema went to the fireplace for a piece of kindling to light the holy sage brush. Its smoke drifted up through the opening in the roof towards the gods in heaven. Dujema passed the scissors through the smoke and cut the umbilical cord.

(BRING UP AND TAKE DOWN CHANTING AGAIN)

NAMU:

Then she dipped me in the enamel basin.

(SOUND OF SPLASHING WATER.THEN VOICE OVER CHANTING)

DUJEMA:

The water is pure. The baby is well. All is in harmony.

NAMU:

And she handed me to my mother.

DUJEMA:

It’s a girl.

AMA:

A girl !

NAMU:

Ama’s disappointment at my birth was unusual. For we Moso people tend to favour daughters over sons. That’s why the Chinese call us the country the Country of Daughters. Among us it is women, not men, who inherit the family house and rule the household. But a family needs sons as well as daughters. We need men to travel with the horse caravans, to trade in the outside world horse caravans to trade in the outside world, and to make the long journey to Lhasa to study the holy Buddhist scriptures and to become lamas.

(A BUDDHIST MONK CHANTS SUTRAS)

NAMU:

Without our lamas we could not name our children or send the souls of the departed onto the next cycle of life.

(MIX FROM THE CHANTING TO THE CRYING OF NAMU AS A BABY)

NAMU:

Ama tried everything to stop me crying. Finally she asked the oldest lama in the village to name me. He placed his hand on my belly

MONK:

Her name is Erche Namu

AMA:

Erche Namu, my princess.

NAMU:

But I didn’t stop crying until my younger brother arrived. My Ama had several lovers before Zhemi my father, but he was the one she loved the most.

(WE HEAR THE RUNNING WATER OF A STREAM)

AMA:

When I was young I used to imagine the young men helpless with love, as they watched me bathe. I imagined them falling over each other to offer me their coloured belts.Then when I fell in love for the first time with Nambu, I left his belt outside my flower room, as a sign that he was welcome to enter.

NAMU:

As a girl I longed for my own flower room, where we receive our lovers. We don’t get married. It is said that it is the Moso are the only people in the world who consider marriage an attack on the family. We have no word in our language for husband or for father. Free relationships, in which men visit their lovers at night, and return to their mothers’ houses at dawn, are known as walking marriages. So my mother never got married. She was a good cook, a skilled horse woman, and could use a bow and arrow as well as any man. She was very beautiful, but she was also restless and impatient. Dujema, mother’s closest friend told me.

DUJEMA:

Your mother was like you, spoiled by all her talents.

NAMU:

It was boredom that turned her into a revolutionary.

(ESTABLISH CHINESE COMMUNIST MARCHING SONG AND TAKE UNDER)

NAMU:

In 1956 the People’s Revolution Army arrived at my grandmother’s village.

SOLDIER:

China has turned over. The feudal era is dead. Chairman Mao will give you everything you need. A new era has dawned. Your great saint, the living Buddha will have to work for his living, like everybody else./span>

AMA:

I love their revolutionary songs. I want to march to the top of the mountains. I want to see what is on the other side. I am going to learn Chinese.

(FADE SONG AND HEAR POUNDING OF BEANS)

NAMU:

My grandmother pounded the soy beans

(RITUAL SONG)

NAMU:

And sang the ritual song for people who have lost their souls./span>

(FADE SINGING)

NAMU:

But the Communists did not like our yak butter tea or our fleas; and soon after they left to liberate other villages. That year when the people came out to dance under the stars, and sang to our mountain goddess, all the men’s eyes were on my Ama, when she sang the courtship song with one called Nambu.

(MAN SINGING. VOICE OVER)

NAMBU:

Little sister, you are like moonlight in the night sky, but the moon needs a star above it.

(WOMAN SINGING IN RESPONSE: VOICE OVER)

AMA:

Night has not fallen. The moon has not risen, but the butterfly is already looking for honey.

NAMBU:

The butterfly has found a beautiful flower and the moon is already high over the lake.

Notice how in post production we weaved the Moso songs with the voice over of the English translation. To continue Namu’s story: after her skirt ceremony, she stayed in the family house, where she was given her own Flower Room, where she could received lovers; but she chose not to tie herself down by having children and staying in her village. Later, talent hunters from the regional Cultural Bureau came to listen to the village girls singing traditional songs. Namu was chosen to represent her village and traveled for five days on horseback to Xijang, the nearest large town. She competed with girls from eight other hill tribes and won first prize. She was selected to represent Sichuan – a region with 87 million people. In Beijing she again won first prize. Life back on Lake Lugu seemed tame. As cook in the local school, she managed to save enough money for the 3 day, hard seat train journey to Shanghai. She’d been promised an audition at China’s prestigious Conservatory of Music. So at the age of 13, having quarrelled with her mother and run away from home, she arrived penniless on the streets of Shanghai. At first, thrown by her shabby attire, the doorman would not let Namu into the Conservatory. However she dashed past him, got her audition and won a scholarship as their first Moso student. By the time she graduated she had already begun her career as a singer, taking her sultry voice to nightclubs in Shanghai and later Beijing. “I was singing mostly pop songs memorised from bootleg Taiwanese tapes”. She also featured on several movie sound tracks including that of The Joy Luck Club. Staying at Lake Lugu, a twenty nine hour drive to Beijing, I could only talk to Namu on the phone. However the local inhabitants were immensely helpful in both supplying traditional singers and in simulating the birth scene.
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