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Jane Austen News – Issue 95

the Jane Austen News feels Christmas is coming

What’s the Jane Austen News this week?  

 


Austen HEAVILY Abridged

One of our favourite finds at the Jane Austen News this week has to be the work of the late Australian comedian, John Clarke.

In his posthumously published book, Tinkering: The Complete Book of John Clarke, which was published in Australia on Monday, he has taken a wealth of literary classics and condensed them down to their most-brief forms. This is abridgment for the reader who really does have no time at all. Or, the reader who has read, or is at least familiar with, the novels he has abridged, and can appreciate the farcical nature of his “short” versions.

These are some of his abridged Austens:

Pride and Prejudice

Elizabeth Bennet (mother obsessed with marrying daughters off, father amusing but not very helpful) dislikes Mr Darcy because he is too proud. She becomes prejudiced against him and even likes one man (Wickham) because he speaks ill of Darcy.

Her life is occupied with sisters Jane, who is calm and loves Bingham, and Lydia, who loves soldiers (Wickham) and who brings family into disrepute (Wickham). Elizabeth inadvertently discovers that Darcy is unbelievably rich. They marry immediately. Mother knew best.

Persuasion

Featuring Anne Elliot (plain, educated, sensitive, wise, family down on luck). Father and spoilt sister go to Bath for society, Anne to another sister (selfish, stupid, married to cheerful farmer). Children get sick, Anne tower of strength. Visited by Captain Wentworth. (Naval man at time of Trafalgar = national hero.) Wentworth and Anne have met before, have loved, and Anne has rejected Wentworth’s proposal of marriage but heart not still. Farmer’s sister falls off seawall and Wentworth realises he’s an idiot about Anne. Hooray!

Emma

Beautiful daughter of silly old fool has nothing better to do than manipulate and matchmake in snobbish rural society. Behaves very stupidly and messes up life of Harriet Smith, a harmless woman who should obviously marry local farmer. Eventually marries best friend Mr Knightley, the resonance of whose name she had previously failed to notice. (See Clueless.)

They’re obviously not a substitute for reading the novels themselves, but they’re a bit of fun, and perhaps a good way to remind yourself of the books you’ve read. (“I’m sure I’ve read it…I just can’t remember what it was all about…”)

A few more examples of John Clarke’s work, including 1984 and Moby Dick, can be found here.

Continue reading Jane Austen News – Issue 95

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Pride and Prejudice Rehearsals Weeks 1-6

 With four proposals, three Regency dances, two confrontations with Lady Catherine and one kiss with Mr Darcy, rehearsals are well under way.

 

It has been 6 weeks since our Pride and Prejudice journey began and oh so much has happened!

Including all of this…

 

Meet the Bennet sisters!

Jane Bennet (Alicia)
Lydia Bennet (Jess)
Kitty Bennet (Rose)
Mary Bennet (Chloe)
(And me!) Lizzie Bennet

 

And when we’re not in regency dress we like to relax with our other favourite cast member, the Athenaeum’s giant bear, aka Mr Darcy’s understudy…

 

With less than 7 weeks to go before our first performance, rehearsals have been in full swing. .We started by blocking the play whilst we had use of the stage, focusing on projection, space and entrances and exits. From here we rehearsed in the Function room three times a week, looking at the closer details of each scene. So far I have been particularly focusing on my more ‘main’ scenes including the famous first proposal from Mr Darcy… ‘You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you’. Johnathon (Mr Darcy) and I have been working closely on this scene to achieve the maximum emotion that is portrayed. It has been challenging and at times tiring (as I’m in every scene!), yet we are all thoroughly enjoying this exciting journey!

We have all been very busy trying to learn lines…

We even had a competition to see who could take a picture with their tote bag in the most interesting place. I believe Sir William Lucas won when he captured this in Venice!

 

And how are the Directors feeling so far…

“We are very happy with the progress made so far. The cast are working very hard to get “off book” and their hard work is beginning to show. Behind the scenes things are coming together nicely. Our producer is getting props organised. We have a soundtrack. We have a little over 6 weeks to go and I am feeling confident about the standard of this production. Tickets sales are coming in as people take advantage of the early bird offer.”

 

 until next time…

Zoe B

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Meeting the Pride & Prejudice Cast

 

Today was the day that every girl dreams of… meeting Mr Darcy.  Matthew Macfadyen set the bar pretty high, not to mention Colin Firth coming out of the lake with a soaking wet shirt on…  and then of course my favourite line of all ‘My feelings will not be repressed. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.’ Just perfection. So it was with no surprise that I was a little, well shocked, to meet my already-happens-to-be-married-with-two-kids-Mr Darcy. That’s not how the story’s meant to go?

Hello again! Yes, as you’ve probably figured out, today was the ‘Meet ‘n’ Greet’ for the cast of the Athenaeum Limelight Players’ Pride and Prejudice (https://www.janeausten.co.uk/austen-mania/ – read my first entry here). A great day was had by all and it was a fantastic opportunity to meet the other members of the cast, discuss plans for the rehearsal process …and eat Pride and Prejudice cake!

Here’s how I got on…

The whole group started with an ice breaker/warm up technique, ‘Zip, Zap, Boing’; a very fun game in which you have to pass the clap or the ‘zip’ around the circle and then various rules get added to make it a simple (although it was quite tough!) but effective method to not only break the ice between new people, but to challenge our reaction times and cues. (This will in time help our reactions and cues on the stage.)

Heather and Adela made the rules more competitive, if anyone hesitated or made a mistake – you were out. We were dropping like flies and unfortunately I didn’t make it to the final 8.

 

Mr Bingley on the edge of his game…

After the boundless laughs we had with this, it was time to cut the Pride and Prejudice cake (cue the excitement!) and then we had the chance to properly meet and talk to one another.

Yum!

Once the very wonderful ‘Meet n Greet’, which directors Heather and Adela organised, had finished, I got the chance to ask them a few questions …

“WHY PRIDE AND PREJUDICE?”

H: “For me the choice was easy. It is the 200th anniversary of Jane’s death and P&P was always my favourite story. The rags to riches story with a twist. A feisty heroine who in a time of little choice for women, knew her own mind. This story is a reflection on Jane’s own life. A woman who broke from the mould of society”

A: “It’s my favourite of all Jane’s novels with Emma and Persuasion close behind. I have read and re-read everything she has written, and my favourite Darcy is Laurence Olivier whom I saw aged 16 when I did P&P for O level English Lit.”

“WHAT CHALLENGES LIE AHEAD?”

H: “I can’t wait to start this production we have the perfect cast but with a large cast there will also be challenges. Not to mention my first time directing anything!”

A:”My biggest challenge is having Heather say at the end that I was a colleague she enjoyed working with, who gave her every opportunity to learn directing, and a cast that has loved every moment of the process”

A Cast photo! Sort of…
This is our very own scaled down model of the stage, set design and cast!

That’s all from me, find out next time what went on in our first proper rehearsal!

Zoe May B

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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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A Dangerous Intimacy: Mansfield Park and Playing at Love

Contrary Wind

Contrary WindBy Lona Manning

A group of young people, passing the rainy weeks of autumn together in “a dull country house,” decide to entertain themselves by staging a play. So what’s so wrong about that, as the critic Lionel Trilling asks rhetorically in his 1954 essay?

The characters in Jane Austen’s great novel, Mansfield Park, devote a great deal of time to debating the question. The play chosen, Lovers’ Vows, is a real play, and Austen could have relied on the fact that her contemporary readers would be familiar with this play. A greater understanding of the play, and of the social milieu of Mansfield Park, will help modern readers understand why the novel’s hero and heroine — Edmund Bertram and his meek cousin Fanny Price — thought that yes, there was plenty wrong about that.

Lovers’ Vows has two storylines – one melodramatic and one comic. Frederick, a young soldier returning home, encounters his mother starving by the roadside. He also learns to his horror that he is illegitimate, and his father is the long-absent Baron Wildenhaim. A kindly local peasant, or Cottager, and his wife take his mother under their roof. Frederick accosts his father and is thrown in prison but matters are eventually sorted out and the remorseful Baron marries Agatha. Meanwhile, the Baron’s legitimate daughter, Amelia, is the lead in the comic storyline. She flirtatiously woos her tutor, the preacher Anhalt, while fending off a marriage proposal from Count Cassel. The entire action is commented on, in rhyming verse, by the Butler, another comic character.

In other words, the themes of Lovers’ Vows (in the original German, the play was called The Love Child) are extra-marital sex and seduction, albeit where sinners repent and Virtue triumphs in the end. Fanny thinks the two female leads, Agatha and Amelia, are “totally improper for home representation—the situation of one, and the language of the other, [are] unfit to be expressed by any woman of modesty.”

Continue reading A Dangerous Intimacy: Mansfield Park and Playing at Love

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Meeting Young Jane Austen

“It’s exciting to be contributing to the Jane Austen 200 celebrations, with performances of Young Jane and Meeting Miss Austen, my adaptations inspired by Austen’s Juvenilia.” – Cecily O’Neill

The exuberance and absurdity of the short novels, plays and letters known as the Juvenilia immediately captured my interest. Many of the characters, situations and issues in these teenage works clearly anticipate Austen’s mature novels, and the dialogue is as funny and revealing as anything she wrote later.

It was the power of the dialogue that made me think these delightful pieces might be adapted for the stage. This is Mary’s first speech from The Three Sisters,

I am the happiest creature in the world! I have received an offer of marriage from Mr Watts! It is the first proposal I have ever had, but I do not intend to accept it. At least I believe I won’t. Mr Watts is quite an old man, at least thirty-two. He’s very plain – so plain that I cannot bear to look at him. He’s also extremely disagreeable and I hate him more than any body else in the world! He has a large fortune but then he’s so very healthy

I could find no evidence that the Juvenilia had previously been dramatized, although the title of the recent film, Love and Friendship, which is based on Austen’s Lady Susan, borrowed the title from one of the minor masterpieces in the Juvenilia.

As well as The Three Sisters, I chose The Visit and Love and Friendship to include in Young Jane. Sell-out performances followed and this was the impetus for publishing the script of Young Jane.

I am currently at work on Meeting Miss Austen, another selection of works from the Juvenilia. One of the most compelling characters is Lady Greville, who prides herself on the fact that she ‘always speaks her mind’. This allows her to be as rude as she likes.

Continue reading Meeting Young Jane Austen

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The Beefsteak Club

The Beefsteak Club

The Beefsteak Club is the name or nickname of several 18th and 19th-century male dining clubs that celebrated the beefsteak as a symbol of patriotic and often Whig  (liberal) concepts of liberty and prosperity.

The location of the current Beefsteak Club.
The location of the current Beefsteak Club.

The first beefsteak club was founded about 1705 in London by the actor Richard Estcourt and others in the arts and politics. This club flourished for less than a decade. The Sublime Society of Beef Steaks was established in 1735 by another performer, John Rich, at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, where he was then manager, and George Lambert, his scenic artist, with two dozen members of the theatre and arts community (Samuel Johnson joined in 1780). The society became much celebrated, and new members included royalty, statesmen and great soldiers: in 1785, the Prince of Wales joined.

1793 press report – "Club" and "Society" are used interchangeably.
1793 press report – “Club” and “Society” are used interchangeably.

At the weekly meetings, the members wore a blue coat and buff waistcoat with brass buttons bearing a gridiron motif and the words “Beef and liberty”. The steaks and baked potatoes were accompanied by port or porter. After dinner, the evening was given up to noisy revelry. The club met almost continuously until 1867. Sir Henry Irving continued its tradition in the late nineteenth century.

The first known beefsteak club (the Beef-Stake Club, Beef-Steak Clubb or Honourable Beef-Steak Club) seems to have been that founded in about 1705 in London. It was started by some seceders from the Whiggish Kit-Cat Club, “desirous of proving substantial beef was as prolific a food for an English wit as pies and custards for a Kit-cat beau.” The actor Richard Estcourt was its “providore” or president and its most popular member. William Chetwood in A General History of the Stage is the much quoted source that the “chief Wits and great men of the nation” were members of this club. This was the first beefsteak club known to have used a gridiron as its badge. In 1708, Dr. William King dedicated his poem “Art of Cookery” to “the Honourable Beef Steak Club”. His poem includes the couplet:

He that of Honour, Wit and Mirth partakes,
May be a fit Companion o’er Beef-steaks.

The club originally met at the Imperial Phiz public house in Old Jewry in the City of London, but finding that venue not private enough, it ceased to meet there, and by 1709 it was not known “whether they have healed the breach and returned into the Kit-Cat community [or] … remove from place to place to prevent discovery.” Joseph Addison referred to the club in The Spectator in 1711 as still functioning. The historian Colin J. Horne suggests that the club may have come to an end with the death of Estcourt in 1712. There was also a “Rump-Steak or Liberty Club” (also called “The Patriots Club”) of London, which was in existence in 1733–34, whose members were “eager in opposition to Sir Robert Walpole”.

Badge of the Sublime Society: a gridiron and the motto "Beef and Liberty".
Badge of the Sublime Society: a gridiron and the motto “Beef and Liberty”.

The Sublime Society of Beef Steaks was established in 1735 by John Rich at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden, of which he was then manager. One version of its origin has it that the Earl of Peterborough, supping one night with Rich in his private room, was so delighted with the steak Rich grilled him that he suggested a repetition of the meal the next week. Another version is that George Lambert, the scene-painter at the theatre, was often too busy to leave the theatre and “contented himself with a beefsteak broiled upon the fire in the painting-room.” His visitors so enjoyed sharing this dish that they set up the Sublime Society. William and Robert Chambers, writing in 1869, favour the second version, noting that Peterborough was not one of the original members. A third version, favoured by the historian of the society, Walter Arnold, is that the society was formed out of the regular dinners shared at the theatre by Rich and Lambert, consisting of hot steak dressed by Rich, accompanied by “a bottle of old port from the tavern hard by.” Whatever the details of its genesis, Rich and Lambert are listed as the first two of the society’s twenty-four founding members. Women were not admitted. From the outset, the society strove to avoid the term “club”, but the shorter “Beefsteak Club” was soon used by many as an informal alternative.

steak and onions copy
Mr. Darcy’s Favourite Beef-Steak” from Cooking with Jane Austen and Friends.

The early core of the society was made up of actors, artists, writers and musicians, among them William Hogarth (a founder-member), David Garrick (possibly), John Wilkes (elected 1754), Samuel Johnson (1780), and John Philip Kemble (1805). The society soon became much celebrated and these men of the arts were joined by noblemen, royalty, statesmen and great soldiers: in 1785, the Prince of Wales joined, and later his brothers the Dukes of Clarence and Sussex became members.

Meetings were held every Saturday between November and June. All members were required to wear the society’s uniform – a blue coat and buff waistcoat with brass buttons. The buttons bore a gridiron motif and the words “Beef and liberty”. The steaks were served on hot pewter plates, with onions and baked potatoes, and were accompanied by port or porter. The only second course offered was toasted cheese. After dinner, the tablecloth was removed, the cook collected the money, and the rest of the evening was given up to noisy revelry.

The Dining Room of the club, from it's Lyceaum days.
The Dining Room of the club, from it’s Lyceum days.

The society met at Covent Garden until the fire of 1808, when it moved first to the Bedford Coffee House, and thence the following year to the Old Lyceum Theatre. On the burning of the Lyceum in 1830, “The Steaks” met again in the Bedford Coffee House until 1838, when the Lyceum reopened, and a large room there was allotted to the club. These meetings were held till the society ceased to exist in 1867. Its decline in its last twenty or so years was due to changing fashion: many of its members were no longer free on Saturdays, being either engaged in events in London’s social season or else away from London at weekends, something much encouraged by the opening of railways. The customary time for dinner had also changed. The society moved its dinner time from 4.00 p.m. in 1808, to 6.00 p.m. in 1833 and to 7.00 p.m. in 1861, and finally to 8.00 p.m. in 1866, but the change inconvenienced the members who preferred the old timing and did not attract new members. Moreover, in Victorian England, its Georgian heartiness and ritual, and old-fashioned uniform, no longer appealed. By 1867 the society had only eighteen members, and the average attendance at dinners had dwindled to two. The club was wound up in 1867, and its assets were auctioned at Christie’s, raising a little over £600.

Thomas Sheridan founded a “Beefsteak Club” in Dublin at the Theatre Royal in 1749, and of this Peg Woffington was president. According to William and Robert Chambers, writing in 1869, “it could hardly be called a club at all, seeing all expenses were defrayed by Manager Sheridan, who likewise invited the guests – generally peers and members of parliament. … Such weekly meetings were common to all theatres, it being a custom for the principal performers to dine together every Saturday and invite ‘authors and other geniuses’ to partake of their hospitality.”

The Liberty Beef Steak Club sought to show solidarity with the radical John Wilkes MP and met at Appleby’s Tavern in Parliament Street, London for an unknown duration after Wilkes’s return from exile in France in 1768.

The Sublime Society of Beef Steaks was re-formed in 1966 and has met continually since then. Several nineteenth century members have lineal descendants among today’s membership, who wear the original blue and buff uniform (of a Regency character) and buttons and adhere to the 1735 constitution whenever practicable. This revival started to meet at the Irish Club, Eaton Square, in 1966, then at the Beefsteak Club, Irving Street, and today meets in a private room at the Boisdale Club and Restaurant in Belgravia/Victoria and, annually, at White’s Club in St James’s, where it is able to dine at the early society’s nineteenth century table and where it also keeps the early society’s original “President’s Chair”, which Queen Elizabeth II gave to the current society in 1969. Although other of the society’s relics (such as the original Grid Iron, Sword of State, Halberts and early members’ chairs, rings, glasses, documents, etc.) have passed down to members of the current society from ancestors in the original society, the current society “leaves such items in safety, keeping less fragile replicas and proxy items for its normal meetings in Central London”. Other early customs of the original society, such as the singing and composition of songs, are also encouraged by the current society.

The Beefsteak Club that today has premises at 9 Irving Street, London, was established in 1876. When it was founded as a successor to the Sublime Society, its members hoped to rent the society’s dining room at the Lyceum. As that room was not available, the club held its first meeting, on 11 March 1876, in rooms above the Folly Theatre in King William IV Street. Two features of the club were, and are, that all members and guests sit together at a single long table, and that by tradition the club steward and the waiters are all addressed as “Charles”.

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The Indomitable Mrs. Siddons

Mrs Siddons

Mrs. Siddons – The Life of One of Britain’s Greatest Actresses

“Well, mother, I have done something for you that you will like. I have been to the theatre, and secured a box for to-morrow night. A’n’t I a good boy? I know you love a play; and there is room for us all. It holds nine.”
Charles Musgrove, Persuasion

The theatre in Regency Bath was a part of everyday life. Society went for entertainment. Entertainers came to take the waters and perform. Of all the thespians ever to play there, however, the most beloved was Sarah Siddons. Sarah Siddons was the daughter of noted actor Richard Kimble, and was perhaps the most acclaimed tragic actress of her day. Born July 5, 1755, she performed on stage with her father’s troupe at an early age. As the oldest of 12 children, she was well educated and reportedly quite beautiful. After falling in love with one of her father’s cast members, a William Siddons, she was sent away from home to work as a Lady’s Maid. There she performed for her fellow servants and, occasionally, guests. In November, 1773, the 18 year old Sarah finally gained her parent’s blessing and married William.

Now Mrs. Siddons, was free, once again, to pursue the acting she loved. Though traveling with a small troupe, it was not long before recognition was afforded her talent. Her success was enough to catch the attention of David Garrick, then nearing the end of his career. He brought her to London in 1775. Unfortunately, when she made her first appearance at Drury Lane, as Portia in the Merchant of Venice, Sarah Siddons was a flop; one critic wrote ‘She is certainly very pretty – but then, how awkward, and what a shocking dresser…’ She departed to once again take up the life she was born into- that of a traveling thespian. It was while on the road that she gained her reputation for being the Queen of Tragedy.

Three years later, she appeared for the first time at Bath’s Theatre Royal in The School for Scandal, where she was receivedby a rapturous public. She played in the city for four seasons (1778/9-1781/2), findinging her greatest success as Lady Macbeth. A role she is reported to have played to perfection. As late as 1799 crowds lined the streets for a mere glimpse of her, and audiences honoured Siddons’ intensely emotional acting with ‘rivetted attention whilst on the stage, and the loudest plaudits at every exit’.

When she returned to London in 1782, the Drury Lane Theatre was under the management of playwright Richard Sheridan,and Siddons was all the rage in fashionable Bath. In her “first” London season she played eighty times in seven different parts. One contemporary wrote, ‘men wept, and women fainted, or were carried out in fits of hysterics’. She was hailed by the Morning Post as ‘the first tragic actress now on the English stage’

In 1783 she was appointed to the position of elocution teacher to the Royal children. This, along, with her acting kept her busily engaged for years. In 1803, she and her brother John Philip Kemble moved to the Covent Garden Theatre. She retired from the stage on June 29, 1812, with a finall performance as Lady Macbeth in Macbeth. Audience members insisted that the play end at the end of her last scene and she is said to have been led weeping from the stage.

scholars have suggested that her “success was due to her complete concentration upon the character whom she played: she identified herself with a role and seemed possessed by it, oblivious of all else around her. Portraits of her were painted by Thomas Gainsborough, Sir Thomas Lawrence, and Sir Joshua Reynolds; Reynolds entitled his painting ‘Mrs. Siddons as the Tragic Muse.'” One writer declaimed “passion emanated from her breast as from a shrine. She was tragedy personified.” Another great actor of the day, described her as ‘an actress who never has had an equal, nor could ever have a superior’. Described as “beautiful, sensitive and intelligent, her stage presence was striking; but her temperament could be variable, and there were many of her contemporaries who maintained that she inspired more admiration than affection.”

While living in Bath at the beginning of her career, Sarah Siddons stayed at 2 Abbey Green. The family later moved to 33 the Paragon where they lived for several years in between acting engagements. Sarah Siddons died in 1831 and was buried in St. Mary’s, Paddington. It is said that 5,000 mourners turned out to pay tribute to one of England’s greatest Actresses.

A statue of Mrs. Siddons was created by Francis Legatt Chantrey and stands in Westminster Abbey.

*****
Written by Laura Boyle. Laura creates custom made hats, bonnets, reticules and other Regency Accessories for Austentation a Regency Fashion History site and Boutique.

* Biographical information quoted from They Came to Bath. Other sources include the Encyclopedia Britannica Online.

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