Our eclectic reading list guides you through the literary works that inspired some of this year’s most exciting productions.
Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold by Stephen Fry
No one loves and quarrels, desires and deceives as boldly and brilliantly as Greek gods and goddesses. They are like us, only more so - their actions and adventures scrawled across the heavens above. Stephen Fry fell in love with these stories as a child and now he retells them for the modern age in his own distinctive voice.
Perfect book for: Bedtime, either yours or the kids. Mythos is entertaining, edifying, and easy to dip in and out.
See it on stage: Stephen Fry’s Mythos: A Trilogy is a gripping one-man tour-de-force from one of the best-loved and most respected cultural figures of our times.
The Secret River by Kate Greenville
The Secret River is a sad book, beautifully written and, at times, almost unbearable with the weight of loss, competing distresses and the impossibility of making amends.
Kate Grenville’s The Secret River imagines the story of William Thornhill, a desperate convict from the London slums who is deported to Australia. Upon earning his pardon, he discovers that this new world offers something he didn’t dare dream of: a place to call his own. But as he lays claim to the soil on the banks of the Hawkesbury River, he finds that this land is not his to take. It’s a beautiful piece of historical fiction, exploring the dark history of Australia’s early settlers.
Perfect book for: A resonant summer beach read with a difference; a stirring clash of cultures with a side of sunshine.
See it on stage: Directed by Neil Armfield for Sydney Theatre Company, The Secret River is transformed into a dark, compelling award-winning drama.
Peer Gynt by Henrik Ibsen
Loosely based on a Norwegian folktale, Ibsen’s Peer Gynt follows the eponymous antihero on a series of surreal adventures from the Norwegian mountains to the North African desert. It’s a story of downfall and redemption, and discovering what it means to be yourself.
Perfect book for: Your lunch break at work. Your colleagues will be impressed by your literary nous while you’ll be escaping the daily grind on a madcap adventure with mountain trolls.
See it on stage: Transposing the antihero from Norway to Scotland, Peter Gynt is a provocative, 21st century reboot of Ibsen’s play, in a major co-production with the National Theatre.
Hear it on stage: Gripping drama, high adventure, quirky Nordic enchantment: Grieg’s exuberant music for Ibsen’s play charts the dreams, voyages and mischief of the Norwegian scoundrel as the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra takes over the Usher Hall.
Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay
Like the best memoirs, this one is written with novelistic and poetic flair. Red Dust Road is a fantastic, probing and heart-warming read
Jackie Kay, poet, playwright, novelist and Scottish Makar, grew up in Glasgow as the adopted, mixed-race child of lifelong committed communists. In searching for answers to what makes her — nature or nurture — she decided to find her birth parents. Red Dust Road is the resulting soul-searching memoir, exploring big questions of identity and race with compassion, warmth and irrepressible humour.
Perfect book for: A cosy Sunday morning treat. Best served with a cup of tea and a biscuit or three.
See it on stage: National Theatre of Scotland's Red Dust Road is adapted for the stage by Tanika Gupta, winner of last year’s James Tait Black Prize for her drama Lions and Tigers, and stars acclaimed actor Sasha Frost and legendary Scottish comedian Elaine C Smith.
The Crucible by Arthur Miller
Regarded as one of the American classics, Arthur Miller’s drama is a masterpiece of power and persecution. Based on the 1692 Salem witch trials, it tells the chilling story of a community destroyed by fear, hostility and hysteria. Miller wrote The Crucible in 1953 as an allegory for the anti-communist investigations in the USA at that time, but it feels just as relevant in the modern day.
Perfect book for: Scaring yourself witless. You’ll look at your neighbours in a whole new light.
See it on stage: Pioneering choreographer Helen Pickett unleashes the full emotional force of The Crucible in the world premiere of this brand-new narrative ballet from Scottish Ballet.
Manon Lescaut by Antoine François Prévost
First published in 1731, Manon Lescaut was highly controversial in its time and was banned in France. Despite (or perhaps because of) this, it became very popular and pirated editions were much sought after. It’s the story of Chevalier des Grieux, a young man of noble birth, who elopes with the charming Manon Lescaut. After several twists, turns and adventures, the pair come to a rather tragic end.
Perfect book for: Squeezing into a busy schedule. This novella packs a truly epic love story into just over 100 pages.
See it on stage: Donald Runnicles conducts Deutsche Oper Berlin for a vivid concert performance of Puccini’s 1893 opera Manon Lescaut, based on Prévost's French novel.
Eugene Onegin by Alexander Pushkin
Eugene Onegin is a very long poem, 5446 lines to be precise, but don’t let that put you off. It’s quick and enjoyable read (honest!), following the tale of a St Petersburg dandy who lives to regret his blasé rejection of a young woman's love. It’s an artful tale of life and death, of passion and the crushing weight of convention, all culminating in a dramatic duel.
Perfect book for: Wallowing in the ennui and despair of a damp Monday evening.
See it on stage: Komische Oper Berlin return to the International Festival this year with Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, the opera based on Pushkin's classic verse novel.