Deborah Yaffe

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The Watsons on stage

By Deborah Yaffe, Mar 15 2018 01:00PM

The Watsons -- the novel Jane Austen began, probably in 1804, but never finished -- is a fascinating fragment. It’s bleak and wintry, centering on a once-genteel family facing economic disaster and a heroine, Emma Watson, who struggles with feelings of displacement, loneliness and rejection.


Although The Watsons has inspired its fair share of fanfiction – I reviewed ten Watsons completions in a 2014 blog series – as far as I know, it’s never been adapted for the stage or screen.


So I was delighted to learn that this omission will be rectified later this year, when a Watsons dramatization by contemporary British playwright Laura Wade opens at the Chichester Festival Theatre in Chichester, Sussex, in southeastern England. (Those who enjoy playing Six Degrees of Jane Austen will note that the production will be directed by Samuel West, Wade’s life partner, who played Mr. Elliot in the excellent 1995 film of Persuasion.)


Judging from the description on the theater’s website, Wade’s version of The Watsons will have some postmodern fun with the notion of an unfinished manuscript. “Who will write Emma’s happy ending now?” the blurb asks. “This sparklingly witty play looks under the bonnet of Jane Austen and asks: what can characters do when their author abandons them?”


It all sounds most promising. Although Jane Austen apparently gave some of her relatives a general sense of what she planned for her Watsons characters, her outline leaves plenty of scope for fleshing out the story in unexpected ways. It should be fascinating to see whether Wade follows Austen’s roadmap or branches off on her own.


The play won’t open until November, but tickets are already on sale. My chances of being in Chichester this fall are nil, sadly, but If any lucky readers see the show, please post here and let us know what you thought.


6 comments
May 21 2018 04:14PM by Kathryn Attwood

Hi Deborah,
I have written a completed version of The Watsons for the stage. It was premiered by Lights & Bushels Theatre Company(www.lightsandbushels.jimdo.com) in Horsham, England in July 2017 to mark the bicentenary of Austen's death and the script is published by Stagescripts Ltd - www.http://shop.stagescripts.com/categories/plays/full-length/comedic-drama/the-watsons.html

Best wishes,
Kathryn

May 21 2018 04:22PM by dyaffe

Thanks, Kathryn! I appreciate the correction -- I hope I'll get a chance to see your version someday.

May 22 2018 01:34PM by Kathryn Attwood

I hope so too! In the meantime, I and several members of my Watsons cast have tickets to the last night of the Laura Wade version at Chichester on December 1st.

May 22 2018 01:57PM by dyaffe

Excellent! Please let us know how you like it.

Nov 5 2018 04:05PM by Susannah Stockton

Hi Deborah,
I am delighted to say that the saw the first performance, the preview in Chichester (I live a 10-minute walk from the theatre) on Saturday 3rd November. It is just superb - so very amusing, witty and full of sparkle. Interestingly, I would probably never have seen it if my partner hadn't wanted to go, but I would have missed so very much, if I had followed my own inclinations. It is on a very short run (I think it ends on 1st Dec) and tickets are quite few and far between now, especially for weekends, but I would encourage anyone to see it, if they are able. I am convinced it will transfer to the West End, though, so maybe others might be able to catch it there.

Nov 5 2018 05:51PM by dyaffe

Thanks so much for this update! How wonderful to hear that there's a good new JA adaptation out there -- I hope you're right that it will go on to a wider run.

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