Emma Donoghue on a musical take of her haunting ‘Room’: ‘It really does work’

TORONTO – “Room” author Emma Donoghue says auditions are well underway for the stage adaptation of her international bestseller about a young mother and boy held captive in a storage shed.

And like the big-screen adaptation that featured an Oscar-winning performance by Brie Larson and breakout turn from Vancouver’s Jacob Tremblay, Donoghue says the new iteration offers even more insight into her captive characters, Ma and Jack, thanks to an added musical element.

“It’s not a musical like finger-clicking, happy, uplifting kind of music, but it’s a play with songs and I know that sounds unlike me but it really does work,” Donoghue says in a recent interview from London, Ont., about the production, which is set to make its Canadian premiere next year.

“The songs are where Ma has stuff that she can’t say to Jack, it’s sort of her inner voice spilling out.”

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Award-winning author Emma Donoghue poses in her home town of London, Ont. on Sunday, Sept. 6, 2016. "Room" author Emma Donoghue says auditions are well underway for the stage adaptation of her international bestseller about a young mother and boy held captive in a storage shed. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dave Chidley

Award-winning author Emma Donoghue poses in her home town of London, Ont. on Sunday, Sept. 6, 2016. “Room” author Emma Donoghue says auditions are well underway for the stage adaptation of her international bestseller about a young mother and boy held captive in a storage shed. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Dave Chidley

TORONTO – “Room” author Emma Donoghue says auditions are well underway for the stage adaptation of her international bestseller about a young mother and boy held captive in a storage shed.

And like the big-screen adaptation that featured an Oscar-winning performance by Brie Larson and breakout turn from Vancouver’s Jacob Tremblay, Donoghue says the new iteration offers even more insight into her captive characters, Ma and Jack, thanks to an added musical element.

“It’s not a musical like finger-clicking, happy, uplifting kind of music, but it’s a play with songs and I know that sounds unlike me but it really does work,” Donoghue says in a recent interview from London, Ont., about the production, which is set to make its Canadian premiere next year.

“The songs are where Ma has stuff that she can’t say to Jack, it’s sort of her inner voice spilling out.”

The songs also help further “theatricalize” the haunting story, says Donoghue, as does a new character called Big Jack who’s not seen by other characters but is played by an adult actor who gives voice to the five-year-old’s inner thoughts.

“The effect is wonderful because Jack gets to have this almost superhero self — this totally confident adult voicing his inner thoughts and his monologues,” says Donoghue, who releases another novel, “Akin,” on Tuesday.

“Room” is set to run at London, Ont.’s Grand Theatre from March 10 to 28, 2020. It premiered on a London, U.K., stage in spring 2017, co-produced by Theatre Royal Stratford East and Dublin’s Abbey Theatre in association with National Theatre of Scotland and Covent Garden Productions.

This new incarnation is produced by Toronto’s Mirvish Productions in partnership with the U.K.’s Covent Garden Productions and the Grand Theatre.

It pulls its director and designer from the British production, but otherwise Donoghue promises it “will be a completely Canadian show.” The production heads to Mirvish’s CAA Theatre in Toronto for another run April 4 to 26, 2020.

The Irish-Canadian author says that when she wrote the screenplay for the film, she tried to appeal to the medium’s naturalistic tone by keeping the dialogue natural as well. For the stage version, she’s playing up the story’s inherent theatrical elements.

“It’s sort of like a mother and a child making up stories to entertain themselves,” she says of the book’s early scenes. “It becomes almost a meta-story about theatre because that’s what theatre is — we’re all just in a black space making things up.”

The celebrated author admits to being busy with several non-book ventures, including five different film screenplays that include an original project and adaptations of her novels “The Wonder” and “Frog Music.”

“It’s become my main sideline now,” she says of film work.

And despite returning to her 2010 novel again and again for different mediums, Donoghue says she has no interest in writing another book about her “Room” characters.

“I’m never going to write a sequel to ‘Room.’ Never, never, never,” she says.

“The story was complete in that we take Jack from a really strange place out into a sort of ordinary world. I think his story that needs to be told is over, and I like to imagine him and Ma just getting to blend in and not have to be extraordinary anymore.”

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