Jane Austen is one of the most iconic female writers and her works have often been used for adaptations to the screen and stage. But what of the woman herself? Jane Austen invites... creates an imaginary episode of Jane Austen's later years, as she sits together with her sister-in-law Martha Lloyd. Susan Leather, playing Miss Austen, talks about the creation of the play.
What made you write a play about Jane Austen?
The director of our small theatre company, an English-speaking group who work in France and Switzerland, found a recipe book compiled by Jane Austen’s friend and sister-in-law Martha Lloyd. It sparked the idea of a play about Jane Austen and food. In the end, the context is a bit broader than just what people ate. We wanted to convey a feel for times when people were more self-sufficient, less spoiled for choice – perhaps a glimpse into the future as well as the past.
How did you set about writing it with another person? Did you write alternate scenes?
No! We met regularly to exchange ideas and agree quite a detailed story line. Then we improvised, scene by scene, and one of us captured what seemed to work and turned it into a script. But we also tried to make sure that the sections where Jane was most Jane - focusing on her books and her writing, and Martha was most Martha – waxing lyrical about dishes from baked apples stuffed with sage to cream trifle (“the gastronomic equivalent of St Paul’s”), were written by the actors concerned.
That makes it sound like a comedy – is it?
It has a lot of humour, much of it ironic in the best Jane Austen style, but other shades of feeling as well – and in spite of the food motif, no custard pies…
Have you written plays before? Are you professionals?
No, but we’re already working on the next one and have an idea for the one after… One of us has recently retired from the United Nations and the other still works for a UN agency. But you haven’t heard the last of us!
Jane Austen invites... can be seen on the 26 and 27 August at 19.00 at the Royal Over-Seas League.