BA may be in trouble with unruly staff right now, but if the company ever gets to glide amongst the clouds again, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to hire David Edgar in air traffic control.
The Birmingham playwright is a master at taking various plot lines, characters and themes, then ensuring they don’t crash into each other.
In Arthur & George, he adapts Julian Barnes’s novel about Sherlock Holmes creator, Arthur Conan Doyle’s involvement in a genuine mystery and miscarriage of justice. Conan Doyle comes to the rescue of George Edalji, a Birmingham solicitor, who, because of his Asian heritage, is unfairly blamed for mutilating livestock.
Edalji – who spent years in jail – desires the return of his good name. Conan Doyle, more ambitiously, wants to take on the entire legal system, along with English racism.
Edgar adapted Charles Dickens’s meaty masterpiece, Nicholas Nickleby. Barnes book, though, is no Nic Nick.
Dickens builds his characters through action and speech. Arthur & George, being a modern novel, relies on the internal thoughts of the protagonists. This means the playwright never quite manages to sufficiently round out the lead characters, who teeter on the edge of caricature.
Comic caricatures, at that. Conan Doyle is a bumbling, slightly foolish romantic. George, a nerd.
The tragedy at the heart of Edalji’s life is never explored, with no scenes of his time in prison.
On the other hand, there is a lot to pack into one play, including a detective yarn, Conan Doyle’s complicated personal life and even a cameo appearance from Bram Stoker.
The playwright may cleverly organise his subject matter, and brings everything to a satisfying conclusion, but emotional detachment prevents this play from taking wings.
Maybe a BA job isn’t for Edgar, after all.