Menier Chocolate Factory, London – until 17 November 2019
Laura Wade’s gleeful reimagining of Jane Austen’s unfinished novel is a refreshing tribute to her work and characters.
When it comes to Jane Austen it would be fair to say that there have been countless adaptations of her work – what with her other unfinished novel Sanditon transformed for television and the numerous programmes and films devoted to Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice. But with this stage adaptation based on The Watsons, Laura Wade offers a refreshing and unique take that is simply fun to watch from start to finish.
While initially beginning in the same way Austen started, Emma Watson is a penniless young woman left to fend for herself while attracting numerous suitors, Wade’s play then takes on a more surreal edge as writer Laura enters the scene as a servant and attempts to finish the original story. However, she gets more than she bargained for when the characters begin to rebel against what the author has in store for them.
Throughout it all, Wade manages to maintain Austen’s sense of wit with a script that simply sparkles with great lines as the piece moves from a typical period drama to a modern style comedy, all of the characters clashing to hilarious effect as they discover that the price they have to pay for having freedom and no structure is chaos. Wade effectively shows just how Austen herself was a strong believer in female rights by making her female characters have a strong say in their own lives – in a way that she in reality was not able to do at that time.
Meanwhile, the play is wonderfully presented in Samuel West’s lightly handled production that fully makes the most of Wade’s sharp script and also gives a strong insight into the the mind of what it is like to be a writer not knowing what to do with their characters. Ultimately, the production highlights that to an extent only we can decide how our own stories end as well as celebrating what Austen achieved with her writing. It is energetic throughout, sweeping audiences along on this bewildering journey to great effect.
The cast themselves really embrace the roles they play, leading to some really delightful interactions between them all. Leading the way as Emma Watson, Grace Molony is brilliantly sharp as her character explores all of the possibilities of her new found freedom that Laura unwittingly gives her, while Louise Ford as the writer Laura highlights the increasing frustration at attempting to finish the story with great humour and warmth. There is also great support from Joe Bannister as the awkward Lord Osborne and Jane Booker as the snobby Lady Osborne (who has an unexpected ending of her own).
Filled with rebellion and a great sense of humour, this is Jane Austen but not as you would recognise it. Laura Wade has effectively blended Jane Austen’s ideas with a modern day attitudes with great style that is brought hilariously to life in this lively production. A real delight from start to finish.
By Emma Clarendon
The Watsons continues to play at the Menier Chocolate Factory until the 16th November.