200 years of Jane Austen: six times Austen's works were adapted for the stage
Today marks the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, but her novels live on. The BBC’s Big Read, which polled the nation on their favourite novels, had Pride and Prejudice as the UK’s second favourite book after JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings at number one and Emma features at number nine in the Guardian’s top 100 books of all time. So it comes as no surprise that theatres are keen to adapt Austen’s work for the stage. Here’s our list of some of the best ones in recent years.
Pride and Prejudice, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre
This 2013 production divided the critics, but those who loved it, really loved it. Deborah Bruce (writer of The Distance) directed the piece and Jennifer Kirby, who plays Nurse Valerie Dyer in Call the Midwife, made her professional stage debut in the play as Elizabeth Bennet.
The Evening Standard‘s critic wrote: "Deborah Bruce’s production has such charm and elegance that I was almost instantly won over."
Not an adaptation exactly, but this improv show which makes a mockery of Austen’s best-loved characters has been travelling around the country since its inaugural performance at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2012. It won the Chortle award for Best Character, Improv or Sketch Act in 2014 and has picked up four and five star reviews across the board.
Pride and Prejudice, Nottingham
At first glance, it’s an unusual pairing; Giles Croft's choice for his final season as artistic director at Nottingham Playhouse is to get stand-up Sara Pascoe to direct Pride and Prejudice. But when you consider much of Pascoe’s act often concerns society’s expectations of women and a shrewd eye for social observation, it begins to make sense.
It hasn’t happened yet, but we know that Pascoe’s production will have music by singer Emmy the Great, and will be directed by Susannah Tresilian (Posh). It will open on 19 September.
Sense and Sensibility, Folger Theatre
Staged last year at the Folger Theatre in Washington DC, USA this show by theatre company Bedlam, was adapted by Kate Hamill and directed by the Wall Street Journal's Director of the Year (2014), Eric Tucker. The play starred Maggie McDowell and Erin Weaver, Jacob Fishel, James Patrick Nelson and Jamie Smithson. The Washington Post‘s theatre critic called it ‘irresistable’ and the New York Times, reviewing the Greenwich Village production, said: "The real wonder of Bedlam’s accomplishment here isn’t so much the exciting animation it brings to a work regarded (wrongly) by some readers as too static to compel. It’s the transformation of gossip into a dynamic, palpable force that shapes both collective societies and individual destinies."
Persuasion, Royal Exchange, Manchester
This modern reworking of Austen’s final completed novel was a huge success at the Royal Exchange, where there was not a bodice in sight, yet Austen’s acerbic wit and biting social commentary remained.
Sam Marlowe, writing for The Times, said: "this is a fantastically satisfying interpretation of the novel, the more brilliantly illuminating for its audacity. I suspect Austen would have loved it."
Our critic said: "By forcing a faithful script – all prim formalities and literary bon mots – through an ultra-contemporary staging, director Jeff James and his co-writer James Yeatman set up the most jarring of anachronisms and so reveal both past and present anew. Talk about popping the bonnet."
Austen's Women, Adelaide Theatre
Rebecca Vaughan’s ambitious one man play which played to audience's in Adelaide, on roadway and at the Edinburgh Fringe, took on the roles of several of Austen’s heroines and anti-heroes, from Lizzie Bennet to Mrs Norris and from the squirrelly Miss Bates to a sobbing Marianne Dashwood. Our critic wrote: "Rebecca Vaughan is as delightful an actress as ever appeared on stage. With a bright eye and a charming ankle, Ms Vaughan twinkles her way through Austen’s Women with great aplomb."