ITD at 21: Pete Brooks looks back on ‘A Farewell to Arms’
The decision to adapt Hemingway’s novel A Farewell to Arms came about for a number of reasons, the most important of which was a shared admiration among us for the novel. In fact, Soul Sister a musical which I’d co-written a few years earlier (and which was nominated for an Olivier award in 2012) contained a barely disguised quotation from the novel and the book frequently cropped up in rehearsal conversations. We also felt a need to extend our audience, and the idea of putting on a known title seemed one way to do that. A second factor was the upcoming First World War centenary, which meant that in 2014, WW1 themed work was in some demand. Lastly, the thematics of the novel, which are very much informed by a sense of an approaching disaster (WW2) and deal in a symbolic way with fatherhood, children and death were very much in tune with those of a typical ITD show.
The process was quite straightforward by our standards. We were, for the first time, starting from an existing text, and our adaptation was in some ways relatively faithful to the novel. Certainly, Hemingway’s distinctive prose style was something we wished to maintain, although sections were transposed from the first to the third person. We also made the decision to deliver the sections of the book which, although written in English, are spoken in Italian, in Italian. Texturally it was beautiful and to English audiences the actors sounded genuinely authentic. However, when we toured the show in Italy we reverted to English as it was explained to us by our Italian producer Velia Papa, that although grammatically correct and fully comprehensible to Italians it sounded very much in the style of Laurel and Hardy dubbed into Italian, hardly the effect we were aiming for.
As it turned out A Farewell to Arms was statistically our most successful tour to date. A four star Guardian review, excellent houses and we even finished in profit. The strangest statistic however was that over the tour ambulances were called to the theatres on 8 occasions to assist members of the audience who had been taken ill during the performance. No other ITD show has ever had a single call out.