Raiders of the Lost Story Arc

Kabosh pull off 'a triumph of creative editing' in this play about the origins of Indiana Jones

Three bearded men sitting at a desk, kicking around ideas about how to make a feature film: it doesn't sound the most thrilling premise for a night's entertainment. But when the men in question turn out to be Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan, and the topic under discussion is the first and best Indiana Jones film, Raiders of the Lost Ark, things start to look more promising.

Created and directed by Stephen Hackett, of the Belfast Film Festival, and Paula McFetridge of Kabosh Theatre Company, this off-beat play – based on real transcripts of a five-day conference between the three men in LA in 1978 – is essentially theatre for film-lovers.

The original 400 pages of transcript have been edited down to a snappy 95 minute production – debuted in Belfast's Black Box as part of the Belfast Film Festival –, and all the classic Indy references are there: the bullwhip, the duplicitous monkey, the Nazi villains, the seething snake-pit.

The dialogue between Lucas (Alan McKee) and Spielberg (Frankie McCafferty) is sharp and often funny; Lawrence Kasdan (Paul Kennedy) appears to be the solid workhorse of the trio, coming up with sensible suggestions as the other two fizz with wild ideas.

'How gory should it be?' Lucas wants to know. 'Saturday matinee violence,' responds Spielberg. 'How about death by fire?' 'Yeah, that's OK,' says Spielberg laconically. That dry humour maintains the energy in the dialogue, and the audience love it.

'What can [Indy] chase them with? What if he jumps on a camel?' asks Lucas. 'I love it. It’s a great idea. There’s never been a camel chase before,' says Spielberg. 'You know how fast a camel can run? Not only that, he can jump over vegetable carts and things. It could be a funny chase that ends in tragedy. You’re laughing your head off and suddenly, "My God, she’s dead."'

The risk with this play is that three men talking about a classic film that everyone knows inside out could have been sheer tedium. After all, there weren't going to be many surprises, were there? (Except the suggestion that Peter Falk or moustachioed Burt Reynolds might have played Indy, and his surname could have been Smith.)

But it turns out the opposite is true: the audience revels in the satisfaction of understanding exactly what the film's creators are talking about, enjoying the sense of being 'in the know'. You see the flesh and bones of the process being put into place; new characters are thrown in and chopped into shape, like Marion Ravenwood, Indiana's feisty love interest, who Spielberg first envisages as 'a goofy, tough, mercenary lady – beautiful, and she gets really sexy when she's drunk'.

The set-up is inventive too: at times, the conversation between the three men pauses, and the action cuts away to clips from classic movies on large screens at either side of the stage. Taking a cue from elements in the Raiders dialogue, the idea is to introduce the audience to key devices in film-making, like the money-shot, the chase scene, and the 'MacGuffin'.

There's even 'We're Off On The Road To Morocco', performed by Bing Crosby and Bob Hope, to illustrate camel-related movie lore. These amusing cutaways provide relief from the intensity of the dialogue, and keep the momentum going.

Smart and engaging without being clever-clever, Raiders of the Lost Story Arc is a triumph of creative editing – and a must-see for those who harbour a lingering fascination with Indy and his masterly way with a bull-whip.

Check out the What's On guide for more information on where to see Raiders of the Lost Story Arc