Adapting well-known source texts for live performance lies at the heart of much devised theatre practice and fairytales have proved a rich source of inspiration in this field. This article argues that the fairytale genre, with its myriad of shared cultural symbols and vivid personal
resonances lends itself particularly well to devised performance intended to be popular, accessible and celebratory, whilst also facilitating exploration of thought provoking social themes and cultural memories. Drawing on Jauss’ theories of reception and on studies of literary fairytales,
this article examines Kneehigh Theatre’s version of ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ and Cartoon de Salvo’s production of ‘The Ratcatcher of Hamelin’ to show how the subject matter that these companies have frequently chosen to adapt draws the audience into the
event through the sense of a shared ‘horizon of experience’. In these devised adaptations both companies actively enhance the shared cultural memories surrounding their material; their oetics of performance and the intertextual richness of fairytales allows them to affect the aesthetics
of reception and to encourage an experience of theatre as social collaboration between performers and spectators. Analysis of these productions also reveals how these companies use adaptations of popular stories to question aspects of contemporary society – specifically issues surrounding
the tensions between individuality and social cohesion and the communal good versus capitalist gains – by bringing the audience’s expectations of the story into play for comparison. This article suggests that adapting well-known stories has been paramount to Kneehigh Theatre and
Cartoon De Salvo’s development of their performance style and has contributed to each company’s success in forming a strong sense of connection with their audiences.
Adaptation, or the conversion of oral, historical or fictional narratives into stage drama has been common practice for centuries. In our own time the processes of cross-generic transformation continue to be extremely important in theatre as well as in the film and other media industries. Adaptation and the related areas of translation and intertextuality continue to have a central place in our culture with a profound resonance across our civilisation.