DISTILLING an 800-page novel, including many chapters on Jewish history, into manageable portions are among the challenges facing those adapting George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda for the stage.

John Cooper took on the task of turning the work into a version which East Finchley-based theatre company Traffic of the Stage will perform next month.

John, a co-founder of the company, says he was already a fan of Eliot’s work, and was keen to adapt this 1876 novel.

“I was reading Middlemarch and thought what a wonderful novel it was. But I didn’t want to do something that had been done many times in the past.

“When I read Daniel Deronda, I was surprised how different it was to the other novels that portrayed rustic England.”

Eliot’s story sees society beauty Gwendolen Harleth gambling away a small fortune at a fashionable casino on the Continent, where she attracts the attentions of the exotic Daniel Deronda, already involved in the destiny of a young Jewish woman, Mirah Lapidoth.

Throughout, Deronda, who was raised as an “English gentleman” is searching for his own Jewish heritage.

John says there is an element of political correctness in the novel which comes from “Jewish characterisation and Zionist aspiration receives positive discrimination, whereas the English gentile society is satirised.

“Jews are often portrayed as implausible, such as those in Trollope’s novels or characters like Fagin. This novel suffers from political correctness a bit. Someone said it was Pride and Prejudice meets the Zionist dream.”

John adds that an adaptor has to be ruthless in the selection of material for a two-hour stage version of this novel.

“There are some heavy-duty passages on Jewish history,” he says. “Eliot loses it a bit in terms of the narrative structure. I hope my adaptation is an improvement on the novel.”

Daniel Deronda is at Upstairs at The Gatehouse, The Gatehouse, Highgate Village, from May 5 to 29. The first night will be in aid of Raphael – The Jewish Counselling Service. Tickets: 020 8340 3488, www.upstairsatthegatehouse.com