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(c) Phil Nichols 2003

Page updated 4 October, 2003

Introduction

Bradbury developed Fahrenheit 451 into a play in the late 1970s. According to Jerry Weist's Bradbury: An Illustrated Life (Wm. Morrow, 2002), at least part of the play was performed at Los Angeles' Colony Theatre in 1979, although the world premiere performance was claimed in November 1988 by the Civic Theatre of Fort Wayne, Indiana.

The UK premiere was in September 2003 at the Nottingham Arts Theatre - see below for a review of this production.

 

Adaptation

In adapting his novel for the stage, Bradbury made a number of changes, some of them quite drastic. Some of these seem to have been at least in part influenced by Francois Truffaut's 1966 screen adaptation of the novel.

Fire chief Beatty is a much enhanced character on the stage. Presented initially as Guy Montag's nemesis, but ultimately being a key to Montag's survival and escape, Beatty is here given a substantial scene in which to explain his behaviour. It turns out that he has a much troubled past, with lost loves and lost family; so troubled in fact that when turning to books for comforting words, he finds nothing but blank pages. He now collects books in his massive library, but ironically emasculates them by choosing to never read a single one.

Clarisse - who in the novel just disappears after sparking the change in Montag's character - is now resurrected, as a book person, in the finale, just as in Truffaut's film. As Robert Louis Stevenson, she meets again with Guy Montag (as Edgar Allan Poe).

Faber, just a professor in the novel, is now Clarisse's grandfather. This doesn't seem to affect the dynamics of the story in any significant way, but does help to keep the story more contained. Faber doesn't need to be explained under this arrangement.

 

UK Premiere - A Review

The UK premiere of the play was a small scale affair, staged by the Royal Company in the rather small Nottingham Arts Theatre. The small stage was not allowed to cramp the drama, however, and an excellent set design - made entirely of construction-site scaffolding - was proven to be very effective with its multiple levels.

The production made extensive use of video projection: for opening titles, for book burning, for displaying the blueprint of the mechanical hound, and for showing shelves of books.

A chorus of actors, in monk-like costumes, was an excellent innovation. These were able to serve as the voices of mechanical devices (such as Beatty's house), the TV performers that Mildred interacts with; listeners who gather around Montag (Gary Keane) when he reads for the first time; and in the finale switch into street costumes to serve as book-people.

Director David Longford made the intelligent decision of not setting the play in the USA. British actors trying to sound American are best avoided. Instead, the actors used their own accents, most of them being northern English (presumably many of the actors hail from Nottingham). Clarisse was played as a somewhat wacky character, not quite the inspirational figure that she is in the novel (or in the playscript). That's not to say that the performance was contradictory to anything in the script, just that the emphasis seemed a bit skewed.

Beatty was unfortunately often unintelligible. While Arun Madahar was very good physically, his staccato delivery didn't match the acoustics of the auditorium.

The mechanical hound, true to Bradbury's script, was forever an unseen presence, represented by an offstage green light source and appropriate sound effects. For the blueprint scenes, however, an animated 3D computer wireframe was projected. Although this matches the description, it was humorous rather than frightening.

The final scene with the book people was slightly weak; the performances here were variable, and sometimes distracting from the emphasis of the scene as scripted.

Overall, given that this was a very low-budget, small-scale production, with many amateurs in the cast, it was a striking piece of theatre.

View some rehearsal photos
Read the rehearsal diaries of one of the cast members

Fahrenheit 451

The novel Fahrenheit 451 was first published in 1953; the play first saw print in 1986.

Picture shows Dramatic Publishing Company edition (1986).

Tobias Anderson (Beatty), Robert O'Reilly (Montag), Colony Theatre, Los Angeles, 1979. (Picture © 2002 Colony Theatre Company; reproduced from Jerry Weist, Ray Bradbury: an Illustrated Life (Wm Morrow 2002).

 

Programme for world premiere, Civic Theatre of Fort Wayne, Indiana, 1988. Art by Arthur Cislo. © 2002 Ray Bradbury; reproduced from Jerry Weist, Ray Bradbury: an Illustrated Life (Wm Morrow 2002).

 

Poster for the UK stage premiere, Nottingham Arts Theatre, September 2003.

 

Fahrenheit 451 (play)