Musical Writer and Director, Edward Greenwood speaks to Theatrefullstop about Aadapting Tommy Wiseau's, The Room for the stage!
We all love a good cult movie- as is proof from the hundreds of midnight screenings for films such as Trolls 2 and Rocky Horror Picture Show over the decades. Taking to the stage are two new adaptations of some of the world’s most loved cult films- Shock Treatment, Richard O’ Brien’s “parallel reality” film based on characters from Rocky Horror, and “the Citizen Kane of bad movies”, The Room by Tommy Wiseau. Theatrefullstop talked to the adapters behind these smash cult successes, Tom Crowley and Edward Greenwood.
A lot of people will recognise The Room The Musical as the “Citizen Kane of bad movies”. What drew you to adapting the film for stage.
I was a student at the time, and The Room has a huge cult following at our university. One night after a comedy gig some of us were joking in the bar afterwards, and someone said, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if there was a musical version of The Room!” I decided then and there that it had to be done. The joke has now definitely been taken too far. But if you think about it, it’s begging for a parody musical adaptation – there are huge characters, relentless melodrama, fights, a hilariously tasteless finale. Taking it to the stage to heighten the characterizations and add silly songs to break the tension and remind you how ridiculous the whole story is just struck me as a very simple way to take the original film and make something twisted and joyous out of it.
Not only is it a staged version, you’ve also written original songs. How did they come into play?
I’m not really much of a musician, but I fumbled some chords together for the parts that I felt really deserved a musical number, where the emotion was at its highest – or for bits of the film which are so pointless that they needed something to wake the audience up. The cheesecake scene in the coffee shop is a good example: I had to keep that scene for the line “Anyway, how is your sex life?” but the rest of the scene is pointless and goes nowhere. So I put in a sexy flamenco number about cheesecake. I tried to vary the style of the songs as much as my limited talents allowed – there’s a polka, and also a Gilbert and Sullivan-style song which only makes sense now we’ve finally got a pianist. Keeping the chords simple has meant that actually there are quite a few catchy tunes in there. I’ve had people furiously telling me that they’ve got one of the songs in their head days afterwards. For the final number though I just combined the chords for “Send in the Clowns” and “One Day More,” added a lazy key change and shoved in a melody from the opening song, because it’s almost as much of a parody of musicals as a parody of the film.
A majority of the script is verbatim dialogue from the film. How has this helped to mould the tone of the musical?
I wanted to keep in all my favourite verbatim bad lines, and then I realized that anyone coming to watch this would insist on seeing theirs as well. I started by transcribing the entire film by myself – it took me two solid days, because I had to keep stopping the film and looking back on what I’d just written and saying to myself, “This doesn’t make any sense, this is all out of order,” and listening back to it again only to find out, “Bloody hell, that’s just the way it’s written.” The flowershop scene took a solid half hour by itself. I then basically went through the script adding songs, jokes, exaggerating the characters and dialogue to make it into something different, breaking the fourth wall and going meta in places, cutting as many of the wholly boring redundant scenes where possible. The film does have a crude arc to it, so I cut it in half and added an opening song for each act and a finale. Hey presto: a musical.
How has your involvement with the audition/rehearsal process changed, or furthered your aim with writing the musical?
We cast some people who were just perfect for the roles, like Laura Anderson, who’s a great actress and can completely inhabit Lisa’a character. But then there’s someone like Joe Beaumont, who plays Tommy, for instance, isn’t exactly a trained actor, but he does a weirdly uncanny impression and just completely gets how bizarre the film is. We also cast some people because they fit the ways I wanted to exaggerate their characters and turn them into monsters – like Denny, in particular, who’s been made into a man-child sexually ferocious goblin. But it also worked the other way round, with the cast having a huge impact on how the show’s developed. Some of the biggest laughs in the current script come from ad libs or throwaway comments made by the actors in the rehearsals, and it’s actually changed the characters in places. The actress playing Claudette, Lisa’s mum, comes from an improv background, and cottoned on to the fact that one of the endless scenes where Claudette and Lisa talk over coffee just didn’t end with a satisfying joke. So as she left the scene she just didn’t put down her coffee cup, declaring “I like this: I’m keeping it, bye bye!” and wandering offstage. Claudette, who’s so obsessed with money, is now a kleptomaniac, and it just works in a way that I’d never have thought of by myself.
Do you think taking the show on the Fringe circuit will complement the film’s cult following?
The midnight screenings of The Room every Sunday of the Fringe have been a fixture for years. I love the film but because the tickets are quite expensive – around £12 per ticket – I only ever actually attended one of them at the 2014 Fringe, by way of research. I’d been to public screenings of the film before, and I knew all the rituals and in-jokes, but nothing had prepared me for this. It was in a huge lecture theatre and it was completely full, with a tempest of people howling all the words in a way that only compares to the mosh pit of a rock gig. Every time a spoon appeared on screen, the theatre exploded with the battle cry and volley after volley of white plastic spoons flew through the air like arrows in a Lord of the Rings battle sequence. The laughter for every line, even though people knew by heart what was coming, shook through the building. Walking out afterwards, the floor crunched underfoot, covered in spoons – it was like the carpet of animal bones in the Chamber of Secrets. I knew that if this show could do well anywhere it’d be Edinburgh.
Interview by Louise Jones.
The Room: The Musical is touring the Buxton Fringe and Great Yorkshire Fringe, and will go on to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe at the City Cafe, 1am daily. For more information on the Buxton Fringe Festival, visit here…