Pan Pan and Adaptation: Bridging Form and Stage

Pan Pan Theatre Company has adapted many European plays and classics since their beginning in the early 1990s. Works ranging from Ibsen to Seneca, from Chekhov to Grimm’s fairy tales. Pan Pan never allowed themselves to be overshadowed by the original material, no matter how imposing or well-known, ensuring to produce a distinct new and innovative engagement with the original play.

Pan Pan’s first adaptive journey to the European mainland was as early as 1995, with Madame Flic Flac in the Red Room, based on Swedish playwright August Strindberg’s Damascus plays. Despite this play’s success, it was a number of years before Pan Pan produced another adaptation: Madame Flic Flac was followed by a long period of staging original works which lasted into the new millennium. In 2004, Pan Pan collaborated with UK-based company Scarlet Theatre to create The Chair Women, an adaptation of Austrian Werner Schwab’s Die Presidentinnen. 

The following year, Pan Pan produced Oedipus Loves You (2005). Based on original Oedipus Rex by Sophocles and Senaca, as well as Freud’s theories on the Oedipus complex, this play became wildly successful, embarking on a global tour over the following years. Oedipus Loves You was performed throughout Europe, in Shanghai, in Australia, and in America and Canada. Pan Pan revised the myth into a modern dysfunctional family which doubled as a rock band. The play’s original music was composed by the band Gordon is a Mime. According to Karen Fricker, “this show feels like the Underground talking back to the establishment” (The Guardian, 14-10-2006). 

In 2007, Pan Pan adapted a film for a stage production. The Idiots, an adaptation of Lars von Trier’s Danish film of the same name, was a challenging tale of a number of people who pretend to be mentally challenged in order to see how this impacts their social mobility. Writing for The Irish Times, Sarah Keating described The Idiots as “not really a play. It is more like a social experiment.” 

The Idiots was soon followed by another adaptation, this time of the well-known and much-loved Hansel and Gretel fairy-tale: The Crumb Trail (2008). New York Times critic Ben Brently wrote on January 12th, 2009: “The boundaries between past and present, mythic prototypes and latter-day variations, and performers and roles all exist in a state of dissolution”. Through a mixture of digital and live sequences, this play reframed the concepts ‘lost’ and ‘found’. In 2012, Pan Pan’s creative trip through Europe landed in Norway when the company adapted Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll House. 2014 marked the first time the Pan Pan engaged with Russian playwright Anton Chekhov. Their version of Chekhov’s (in)famous The Seagull, called The Seagull and Other Birds, which opened at the Dublin Theatre Festival in 2014 before touring across Europe and to the U.S.

The Importance of Nothing (2017) was Pan Pan’s first adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s work. Loosely based on The Importance of Being Earnest, the story took place inside a prison where the inmates worked through their incarceration via drama therapy, perhaps a hint to Wilde’s own time serving hard labour in prison. 

By adapting plays, novels and films from a variety of countries throughout Europe, Pan Pan not only displays a global artistic interest, but also showcases a significant ability to immerse themselves and audiences in stories from all sorts of cultures and makers. The company has made these stories their own without disregarding the original source. These adaptive trips to across European theatre repertoire underlines Pan Pan’s universality and interrogation of forms of story-telling, reconstituted anew for the stage and within multifaceted approach to the art of theatre. 

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