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. 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 (more…)
This week we were surprised to learn that a new program in New York is severely restricting the books which will be available in prisons. This new program, amazingly, has effectively banned, among other classic authors, Jane Austen’s books.
Directive 4911A, as it is known, is currently being applied to three prisons in the state, but it could soon be expanded to every facility in New York. The plan limits packages that incarcerated people in New York state prisons can receive to items purchased from six vendors (with two more expected to be added). The idea is that this will “enhance the safety and security of correctional facilities through a more controlled inmate package program.”
This in itself isn’t a problem, but the range of books on offer is shockingly limited. The first five vendors combined offered just five romance novels, 14 religious texts, 24 drawing or coloring books, 21 puzzle books, 11 how-to books, one dictionary, and one thesaurus. (A sixth vendor has added some additional books to the list, but the full list will not be available to all prisoners.)
One group, the Books Through Bars collective, has been working to raise red flags about the directive’s unintended consequences (for more than 20 years, Books Through Bars has been sending books to people in prison in 40 states at no charge).
A spokesperson from Books Through Bars has stated the the new directive will mean “no Jane Austen, Ernest Hemingway, Maya Angelou, or other literature that helps people connect with what it means to be human. No texts that help provide skills essential to finding and maintaining work after release from prison. No books about health, about history, about almost anything inside or outside the prison walls. This draconian restriction closes off so much of the world to thousands of people.”
We agree. Surely allowing prisoners to read Jane Austen’s books can only result in good things?
That’s right, one week to go and Mrs Bennet isn’t the only one struggling with her ‘nerves’! The rest of the cast and I have been working VERY hard over the past few weeks to bring this Austen classic to life and now we are at the final stages. The set is up, the props are being gathered and scripts are being left behind.
Last week we focused on the epilogue; the letters. This scene has been specifically added to our adaptation by our directors after they were inspired by a performance at the Theatre Royal Bath.
By Harold Taw
“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.