A guide for the journey

Heather Neill on the adaptation of a classic novel on colonial India

A Passage to India

By EM Forster, adapted by

Martin Sherman Shared Experience

Nancy Meckler, director of this touring production of A Passage to India, says that the last section of the novel has been thought mystical and difficult by previous adaptors, but Martin Sherman felt it to be the core of the book. "He has brought details from here to the forefront."

Meckler says that it is her intention to "create theatre - a play rather than a semi-literary experience. To find what is dramatic entails extracting a major theme". Sherman found the key in that neglected final section where a story told by the only Hindu character, Professor Godbole, threw light on the whole narrative. Meckler says: "The professor is explaining a local legend. A man is asked by his mother to free the inmates of a prison. He does. The police chop off his head and now there are two shrines, one for his head, one for his body. Martin had the idea that the professor could become our guide. He tells this story at the beginning and the two symbolic shrines are onstage throughout the evening. This represents one of the main themes: the split between the head - the intellect, and the heart - feelings."

It would be possible, says Meckler, to read this simply as showing the contrast between England and India, where thinking is more connected to feeling and spirituality. But it is also true of several of the characters whose journeys in the story seem to be about trying to bring head and heart together in balance. "When you don't have the slightly mocking authorial voice the characters often seem more real, immediate, even quite touching - but Forster is woven all the way through, speaking in the voice of the characters, especially Professor Godbole and Mrs Moore."

As to the central question - what exactly happened in the Marabar Caves? - Meckler says: "It is very clear that Dr Aziz was not in the caves. We interpret what happens in this way: Mrs Moore sees her deepest fear in the caves and Adela sees hers. We see it as an embodiment of the subconscious."

The staging will be simple; the whole experience is intended to stimulate the imagination.

Touring from September 19 to Richmond, Bath, Milton Keynes, Oxford, Coventry. Guildford from September 19 to November 2. Tel: 020 7434 9248

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