To sequel or not to sequel: That is the question
There's a story - I don't know if it's true - about a Hollywood studio which commissioned some very expensive market research in the late 1980s to find out which kind of movie made the most money.
Some time, and millions of dollars later, a high-level delegation attended a meeting to hear the results. In a room tense with expectation and solemnity, the moguls were told that the genre most likely to provide a return on their investment was... the sequel.
If it is true, I doubt they were amused. But there is little doubt that sequels can be big business. Initial one-off creations can be turned into lucrative franchises and brands. And although there are too many examples of hideous, cynical follow-ups that debase the original artistic creation, there are also instances where a sequel has proved to be as good as - or even better than - the original story.
Many think The Godfather: Part II was better than The Godfather, and even And Another Thing..., Eoin Colfer's follow-up to Douglas Adams's Hitchhikers series, received some positive reviews, despite the original work's famously loyal fan-base.
What's more unusual is to take a very old work and to use a sequel as a device to explore modern issues. David Greig's new play Dunsinane is a sequel to Shakespeare's Macbeth, without iambic pentameter and written in right-up-to-the-minute prose.
Swearing and contemporary colloquialisms such as "there are some positives" abound. The play is not a homage to the great Bard, but an exploration of the broader issues of invading armies. The men in the 11th-Century English army which has invaded Scotland constantly moan about the discomforts of a foreign land. Their leaders don't understand the subtleties of local life and are therefore easily manipulated and fooled.
And then there's the "do-gooding" nature of Siward, an English general, who desperately wants to create a political climate where peace can become the norm. His efforts are witheringly summed-up by Gruach - the forename given by Greig to Lady Macbeth, who Shakespeare clearly failed to finish off properly - when she tells him:
"You're a good man, Siward. It would have been better if you weren't. There would have been less blood."
It's not difficult for audiences to make connections between the events in the play and the current events in Afghanistan.
It prompted me to think about what other classic works of literature have been brought up to date with a sequel, prequel or spin-off, their stories taken to new places by different authors. Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead is a spin-off based on Shakespeare's Hamlet. But what other pre-20th-Century plays or books are ripe for a sequel? And what would the plot be? Conversely, are there any works that should be protected from sequels, like listed buildings of the written word?
Maybe all fiction - be it a play, book, TV programme, video game or movie - is some kind of sequel of sorts. In a book by Christopher Booker called The Seven Basic Plots, he argues that there is only a handful of archetypal themes which recur in all storytelling. It's an interesting argument.