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Why Jane Austen’s Persuasion Still Captivates Audiences

Jane Austen's Persuasion

This Spring 2018, Theatre6 is producing a touring production of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Artistic Director Kate McGregor discusses why they’ve chosen to adapt the work for six actor musicians, and why Persuasion remains so captivating for today’s audiences.

Jane Austen's Persuasion

Adapting a novel like Jane Austen’s Persuasion for the stage, from the earliest planning stages until the opening night, is a project that absorbs your days and nights for at least two years. In making the decision to dedicate such time to a piece, it has to be one which you’d like to explore visually, conceptually, emotionally and intellectually. Most importantly, it has to be a story that will excite, captivate and be relevant for your audiences. For Stephanie Dale (the novel’s adapter) and I, our biggest inspiration for working on the piece was the character of Anne. We envisioned how the themes in Persuasion could transcend time and space, and imagined how Jane’s ideas could breathe and thrive in our modern world.

 

A novel must show how the world truly is, how characters genuinely think, how events actually occur, a novel should somehow reveal the true source of our actions

– Jane in Becoming Jane.

 

Set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic wars, this is a story about heartbreak. It’s about making decisions you regret, about trusting the right people for the wrong reasons. It asks questions about the inner workings of why we love and who loves the longest. Most importantly it’s an expression of Anne inner thoughts and what pressures being parted from those you love can put on the mind. Out of all of Jane’s novels, Jane Austen’s Persuasion is the one that speaks with the most sincerity, frankness and digs deepest into the fragility of the human spirit. In the film, Becoming Jane, Jane expresses why she writes and what type of stories she’ll strive to create. In this, her last completed novel before her untimely death at 42, Jane was writing a book which dealt with some of the darker themes in her life, possibly a combination of her own experiences and definitely an example of her confidence and skill as a published writer.

In producing a faithful adaptation of the novel, we wanted to take her intention of truthfulness and honesty as far as we could, to explore Anne’s thoughts and feelings in a way that Jane would have applauded. No matter that 200 years exist between Jane and ourselves, we all have the same feelings. We all love and wish to be in love at some point in our lives. Most of us have felt the magic of being in love and many of us have felt the loss of it. As human beings we are accustomed to the agony of heartbreak and being vulnerable. Everyone can identify with what it feels like to struggle with loneliness and regret and concealing those feelings from those around us. Anne is a protagonist who speaks to us all, somehow free of the restrictions of time and history.

Our biggest challenge on identifying what was relevant about the novel for today, was how we could present the inner workings of Anne’s mind for a theatre-going audience. It was also important to us that people who had perhaps never been to the theatre before or had never read a Jane Austen novel, would be able to understand her ideas and relate to them.

There are several themes in Jane’s novels which are prevalent across all six of them. To name a few – matchmaking, marrying for love or for income, rural life, Bath and high society, responsibility and family, the threat of poverty, the navy and the military, a love of the sea, pride, class mobility and immobility, travelling and new beginnings, deceit, deception and unspoken feelings. In her novels we see long walks, card games, close female friendships and sisterhood, gossip, longing and dreams of the future. And, without a doubt, there is music: music as art; music as distraction; music that elevates and the music of love. Without a doubt we were determined to involve music in a way that would unravel and reveal the deepest feelings of Anne and use it to help our audience understand the world of the play – the time and context. In our production of Persuasion we play over 20 characters with only six actors. And each of those actors plays an instrument. True to the narrative of the novel, Anne plays the piano exceptionally well. We have extended this idea so that Anne uses her piano and the beats of the music to express her inner most feelings – her darkest thoughts and her wildest joys. The composer, Maria Haik Escudero has created an original score that is integral to Anne’s thought process and the adaptation.

In order to explore and open up the novel for audiences, we’ve given moments for Anne to speak to the audience. Jane Austen’s Persuasion was a groundbreaking piece of writing in the impression it offered of the female consciousness. Anne’s journey to escape her inner thoughts and use her voice, and it being heard by others is what is at the heart of the novel. The story explores in minute detail how Anne felt during her 8 years of separation from Wentworth and how those years of inner turmoil and taken hold of her. This is a section from the very beginning of Theatre6’s production –

 

ANNE :            

Sometimes, all I can see is blue; the blue of the sea.

All I can hear is the falling

of the notes on a piano.

And for a time, it goes dark.

The seasons carry me;

I am at their mercy.

I have no desire to harm anyone or anything and yet,

and yet,

because I could not bear to lose my family,

I devastated him

and for that I shall

be eternally tormented.

 

Our adaptation asks – can people retain their good character even when the ground under their feet is threatened? When they face big changes – losing family members, losing their homes, when their hearts are broken? Women in Jane’s novels were so frequently powerless. Men had choices and women frequently did not. Choices of: marriage; a choice of profession; of entertainments; of travel and of expression. Women could not earn their own money or inherit it. They are entirely at the mercy of the men they are in close proximately with. Love is a precious, perilous and sought after ornament to the necessities required to survive. In a time where the only way they could change their circumstances would be to become involved in a situation with a man who would look after their needs, we felt strongly that Anne must have her voice. She must be understood in 2018.

There’s a thought explored in the final third of the novel that underpins our thinking behind the character of Anne. Whilst men can leave their homes to have careers and find distractions elsewhere, women “live at home, quiet, confined, and our feelings prey upon us.” This idea was the central component which unlocked this adaptation. Whatever was going on in her day to day world, Anne had to cope with the inner turmoil of losing her young love and the duty she believed she owed to her family. Anne’s stoic nature, some believe to be close to that of Austen herself, becomes a shadow of her former self and like the opening of the book she retrenches from society.

Captain Harville in the novel questions whether women are as constant in their feelings as men. He tells Anne that it is impossible for her to understand what it feels like to leave your family behind to sail in the navy. She is quick to correct him, highlighting that women feel just as much if not more. They have no distraction other than what they feel and there is no distraction to take away from the depth of their feeling. Men cannot assume they are the only ones to love. Captain Harville remarks that the history books all talk about women’s fickleness. Anne states “but they are all written by men.” Jane Austen gave Anne the voice to disagree; to assert that the female mind is perhaps the most fraught and yet the most resilient.  Whilst Wentworth learns about the sea and the harsh realities of men and war in their eight years apart, Anne learns about duty, responsibility for herself and the true power of her own mind.

A review in the March 1818 edition of the British Critic praised the realism of Jane Austen’s works, saying that they “display a degree of excellence that has not often been surpassed”. She writes on epic themes but portrays them beautifully in miniature; she creates characters in witty and often satirical manner – and so whatever time or place, we all feel that we know a Sir Walter, Mary or a brooding Captain Benwick.

Something we have focused on is Anne’s reasoning and how it is inextricably linked with how she feels – the two work together and eventually, the conclusions demonstrate a deep insight and understanding of her situation and what must be done in order for her to achieve happiness. The novel is ahead of its time in the sense that it shows the reader that happiness can be found if women are bold enough to find their voices and use them.

Persuasion is unique amongst Austen’s novels in that we have the original manuscript chapters – and the alternative happy ending she was striving to find. In Theatre6’s production of Persuasion we explore the biggest journey of our lives – to find love for ourselves, regardless of the love of others. Anne’s love for Wentworth and his unbreakable commitment to her is the conclusion of this timeless story. If we can find love and hold onto it and yet not break the commitment to ourselves – our own voice and our own worth, then love itself is worth having and worth waiting for. Even if the wait spans a lifetime. And just like Anne and Wentworth, we all deserve a second chance.

***

Theatre6’s Persuasion runs from 17 April – 20 May 2018 opening at London’s Playground Theatre and touring to Dorchester Arts (Dorset), Marine Theatre (Lyme Regis), The Hat (Brighton), Theatre Royal Windsor and the Mill Studio in Guildford. For more information and bookings on this production of Jane Austen’s Persuasion visit www.theatre6.co.uk/whatson.

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Why Adapt Persuasion for Musical Theatre?

Persuasion A New Musical

By Harold Taw

Persuasion A New Musical
Left to right: Cayman Ilika as Anne Elliot, Nick DeSantis as Sir Walter and Matthew Posner as Captain Wentworth. Photograph by Erik Stuhaug

“She had been forced into prudence in her youth, she learned romance as she grew older—the natural sequel of an unnatural beginning.”
Persuasion, Chapter 4

I’ve encountered three reactions from those who learn we’ve adapted Jane Austen’s final complete novel Persuasion as a musical. The first is delight. This comes from people who hold certain Austen adaptations near and dear to their hearts … usually the 1995 BBC miniseries of Pride and Prejudice starring Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. The second is indifference. These souls were forced to read Austen in high school and tend to confuse her with Charlotte Brontë. The third is dread. These are Janeites who anticipate a chorus line of naval officers high-kicking atop a painted reproduction of The Cobb in Lyme Regis.

Let me reassure, and perhaps disappoint, everyone: our musical does not feature zombies to attract a teen audience, will not turn Captain Wentworth into an Iraq veteran to show social relevance, and will not relocate Act II from Bath to Havana as an excuse for a climactic mambo. We chose to musicalize Persuasion for a simple and perhaps naïve reason. We believe that if any art form can be true both to the novel’s wit and to its aching melancholy, it is musical theatre … not the musical theatre of spectacle but of emotional immediacy and intimacy.

Continue reading Why Adapt Persuasion for Musical Theatre?

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Jane Austen and Illness

Jane Austen and illness

by Margaret Mills

What reading material do you turn to if you are unwell?   The novelist Mrs Elizabeth Gaskell wrote a letter early in 1865 to John Ruskin, about one of her own books, in which she said: “whenever I am ailing or ill, I take Cranford and – I was going to say enjoy it (but that would not be pretty!) laugh over it afresh!”

For a couple of months last summer, my own life was temporarily disrupted because I was “ailing or ill”, and spent most of my time indoors.  No real hardship this, as I am, and always have been, a great reader, and at times like this I turn to one of my favourite authors, the divine Jane Austen.  Well or not, I can’t begin to estimate how many times I have read Jane Austen’s works over the years.  My favourites are probably Pride and Prejudice and Emma, but the reason I settled on Pride and Prejudice as my first selection rests partly on the first chapter alone:  the immediacy of the introductory paragraph plunges you straight into the story, and I have always adored the dry humour of Mr Bennet, the father of those “silly and ignorant” daughters! Continue reading Jane Austen and Illness

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Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney

Visuality in the novels of austen

Jessica A. Volz’s latest book, Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney (London and New York: Anthem Press, March 2017), examines how four famed women novelists publishing their oeuvres in Britain between 1778 and 1815 used visuality – the continuum linking visual and verbal communication – to achieve a degree of rhetorical freedom in a way that concealed resistance within the limits of language.

In contexts dominated by inexpressibility, penetrating gazes and the perpetual threat of misinterpretation, Jane Austen, Ann Radcliffe, Maria Edgeworth and Frances Burney used references to the visible and the invisible to comment on emotions, socio-economic conditions and patriarchal abuses. This title offers new insights into the evolution of strategic/diplomatic communications and women’s rights during a period shaped by revolutions, empires in transition, the Enlightenment and changing attitudes towards freedom of expression. Caroline Jane Knight, Jane Austen’s fifth great niece, contributed the foreword. The cover features a painting by Mary Moser, one of the Royal Academy’s two founding female members.

Continue reading Visuality in the Novels of Austen, Radcliffe, Edgeworth and Burney

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Are Jane Austen’s Heroines Ideal Women?

Jane Austen's Heroines

By Jenni Waugh

I recently replied to an email enquiry from a student who was looking for an opinion on the question “To what extent does Jane Austen present her heroines as ideal women within their social contexts?” My reply ended up being fairly lengthy and is below. Let me know what you think!

Are Jane Austen's Heroine's Ideal Women?
Personally, I’d say that very few, if any, of her heroines are presented as ideal women within their social contexts. They all have their own unique flaws.

Elizabeth Bennet is outspoken and opinionated; just think of her responses to Lady Catherine’s enquires about her age, and her dismissal of Mr Collins, and then later of Mr Darcy. Were Lizzy an ideal woman in society she would have accepted Collins in order to secure her family’s home as per her mother’s wishes, or Darcy when he asked her in order to secure an even better future for herself and her family.

emma-woodhouse-2Emma, likewise, is outspoken, opinionated and meddlesome. Although on a positive note she is at least relatively rich; a most desirable quality in any wife. Anne Elliot is rich and polite, and certainly obeys her family’s wishes, which is why she turned down the Captain’s initial offer of marriage all those years ago. However, Anne would be considered by many to be too old to make a good bride. You could be out in society and looking for a husband from the age of 15, and by the age of 26 you were seen as on the shelf. Most of Austen’s heroines marry at the age of 19.

elinor-dashwoodmarianne-dashwoodThe Dashwood sisters in Sense and Sensibility are also not ideal women. Elinor is undoubtedly highly sensible, frugal, polite and caring. We’re shown this in the way she  ignores her own deep feelings for Edward when she discovers he is engaged, the way she monitors the family finances, in her manner towards characters she doesn’t like (Lucy Steele for example), and in how she cares for her sister Marianne when she is broken hearted. Marianne may not be as sensible, but she is incredibly beautiful, accomplished in her piano playing and her singing, and she too has good manners and a loving nature (although this was not necessarily a must-have for an ideal woman). Where both sisters lose out is in their financial circumstances. They have lost their family home and their wealth and they are now forced to live in meagre circumstances. They have gone from an estate to a cottage, and this simple lack of fortune makes the sisters far from ideal. Money and power were still the best reasons to be married in the 1700s and into the 1800s. A woman without wealth was far from ideal, whatever her other merits may be.

catherine-morlandNext, to the heroine of Northanger Abbey. Catherine Morland is the youngest heroine to be married, but despite her youth Catherine is far from an ideal woman as she reads, of all things, novels! These put ideas into her head that eventually lead to her belief that General Tilney is some sort of crazed wife-murderer. Northanger Abbey highlights the perils of reading too many of the gothic novels which were popular at the time by satirising the genre and showing what trouble they get Catherine Morland into. Catherine, therefore, is too naive and reads too much to be seen as an ideal women.

fanny-priceThat leaves Fanny Price. Fanny Price is probably the heroine that comes nearest to Georgian society’s idea of an ideal woman. She is kind, she is the most obedient of Austen’s heroines (almost to the point of submissiveness, and this was a very good quality to have as a wife), she has some good connections thanks to her uncle, and although not beautiful, she is pretty. Fanny’s downfall is that despite her home in the impressive Mansfield Park, she is in essence penniless, having been sent to life with her aunt and uncle since her parents could not really afford to look after her. Fanny is the poor relation, and that alone was enough to stop her from being an ideal woman.

To sum up, Jane Austen didn’t write any of her heroines as “ideal women”. Instead she chose to give each of her heroines at least one thing that would make them flawed, and then over the course of a novel, to show her reader why that flaw ultimately didn’t matter. By writing heroines with flaws Austen succeeded in highlighting her society’s own flaws and prejudices. Besides, it’s difficult to feel any great affection for a character that’s perfect.

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Our Books of the Year 2016

Books of the Year 2016

It’s been an extremely varied 12 months here at the Jane Austen Gift Shop as far as reading matter goes…

colouring1-600x600Our biggest sellers have been the Jane Austen Classic Colouring Book and the Pride and Prejudice Colouring Classic. Whether young or old, it’s hard to resist getting out the pencils, paints or crayons to add a splash of colour to these enchanting illustrations. Some said the colouring craze was just a passing fancy, but if the popularity of these titles is anything to go by, there’s plenty of life in it yet, especially among Jane Austen fans!

the-annotated-emmaOf the official releases, you certainly enjoyed The Annotated Emma. This ingenious and illuminating book book pairs the full original text with explanations of historical context, maps and illustrations, definitions of historical terms and concepts, comments and analysis and cross-referencing to Jane’s other novels, letters and writings. The result is almost like reading the novel for the first time, and it’s full of information on everything from English attitudes towards gypsies to the social status of spinsters and illegitimate children, to the shopping habits of fashionable ladies. A gourmet feast for Janeites, it’s one of those books that is sure to drive your friends mad, as you constantly stop and them and say: “Did you know this?”

81_89a282jl15The big movie news of the year was the release of Love and Friendship, based on Jane’s early work Lady Susan. If that’s inspired you to catch up (or re-acquaint yourself) with the juvenilia, we have a lovely collector’s hardback of the complete early writings: Love and Freindship, with Lady Susan included of course. More controversial was the release, after years of announcements, of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. It sharply divided opinion among Janeites here, and doubtless everyone will have a strong opinion about it one way or another. But there’s no question that the original book deftly converts the source material into the idiom of zombie horror – if you are brave and curious, you can give it a try here!

world of poldarkOn a completely different note, it was hard to ignore the fact that Mr. Darcy has found himself up against a serious rival for the hearts of the nation in the form of Winston Graham’s Captain Poldark, in the BBC’s smash hit adapatation of the best-selling Georgian and Regency romantic novels. Our primary loyalty will always be to Jane’s characters of course, but we couldn’t ignore this phenomenon entirely! As such, we beg Darcy’s indulgence and discreetly bring to your notice the superb World of Poldark, a lavish, beautifully illustrated companion to the novels, the series and the times, with features on everything that makes the series so memorable: the characters, the plots, the locations, the costumes and the landscape. If all of that whets your appetite for the originals, don’t miss our lovely collector’s edition of the first novel Ross Poldark, or, if you just want to gaze at the images and wish you were there, there’s always the Official 2017 Poldark Calendar!

ssgraphicnovel-600x600If graphic novels are to your fancy, there’s still time to snap up the highly acclaimed Marvel adaptation of Sense and Sensibility, now out of print and highly collectable. The superb artwork and clever adaptation of the material works surprisingly well – it’s a great way of introducing the book to teenagers who think they don’t like ‘that sort of thing’, as well as a treat for confirmed fans with modern tastes. pig124-600x600

For the very young there’s a beautiful board book edition of Emma, the latest in the wonderful Little Miss Austen series. And the jury is still out as to whether you have to be very young to want a copy of A Guinea Pig Pride and Prejudice on your shelves… Don’t worry: we won’t tell anyone if you don’t…

 

 

 

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Jane Austen Waxwork now in Bath England

Jane Austen WaxworkThe Amazing Jane Austen Waxwork at the Jane Austen Centre in Bath

Although not breaking news, we thought you’d be interested in this article about the Jane Austen Waxwork which has appeared in Wikipedia.

It contains lots of background info on the waxwork creation and the development of the original portrait by Melissa Dring.

For the full article in Wikipedia press here

Based upon the 2002 portrait, the wax figure’s creation was undertaken by the internationally-renowned portrait sculptor Mark Richards, who had previously created busts of Eric Cantona and Sir Arthur Marshall, as well as a full-life bronze of The Queen and Prince Philip. He was also responsible for designing the 2011 Royal Wedding five pound coin. During the three year process it took to create the Jane Austen figure, Richards worked closely with Melissa Dring, along with hair and color artist Nell Clarke, formerly of Madame Tussaud’s, and BAFTA award-winning designer Andrea Galer. The latter, dressing the completed figure in authentic period costume.

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Real Reads: Jane Austen’s Novels

‘These lively, attractive little volumes are ideal. Charmingly presented and skilfully written, they capture the flavour and tone of Jane Austen’s peerless craft while simplifying the narrative and dialogue. Even as a purist, I think these Real Reads are a Real Help for the younger, novice reader.”
Josephine Ross, author of Jane Austen: A Companion

When my daughter was young, we began a tradition of “Girlie Movie Nights” (when Daddy was away), trimming bonnets, watching Jane Austen films and eating chocolate (if you ask her today, she’ll still insist with solemn assurance that “chocolate is good for girls”.) Once she began to read fluently, I looked for a way to share the same stories with her in a form she could read for herself.

realreads

I considered the popular “illustrated classics” series, but found the illustrations a bit dated. I was, therefore, completely delighted when I discovered Real Reads, a series that focuses on classic literature, retelling it in a simplified way, easy for children to understand and yet maintaining the tone of the original. In each book, be it Austen, Dickens, Shakespeare or some other “classic”, the authors (in this case Gill Tavner) condense the story and “extras” into 64 full color pages. Each book is lavishly illustrated (the Austen books are drawn by Ann Kronheimer) in a fun, watercolor style.  Naturally, I purchased all six Austen titles!
Continue reading Real Reads: Jane Austen’s Novels