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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Lady Susan on tour

With their witty dialogue and streamlined storytelling, Jane Austen’s novels have many of the qualities of the best plays. No wonder they have often translated so successfully to stage and screen.

 

The latest such translation, a one-woman show based on Austen’s novella Lady Susan, is touring provincial UK venues this spring. And it sure sounds like a lot of fun.

 

As Janeites know, Lady Susan is unusual among Austen’s completed works, for at least two reasons: It retains the epistolary form that Austen seems to have abandoned when revising Elinor and Marianne into Sense and Sensibility, and First Impressions into Pride and Prejudice; and its protagonist is scheming, amoral, and sexually experienced, in contrast to the fallible-but-virtuous virgin heroines of the six major novels.


Perhaps because its uniqueness makes it an uneasy fit with the expected JaneAusten™ brand, Lady Susan has been adapted far less often than Austen's other works, with, as far as I know, only one screen version (Whit Stillman's 2016 film Love and Friendship) and no widely produced theatrical ones.

 

The new adaptation comes from Dyad Productions, a British theater company that “creates, produces and tours innovative yet classic theatre with a contemporary relevance,” often featuring only one or two actors. Founder Rebecca Vaughan--who has previously starred in Dyad shows about everyone from Elizabeth I to Virginia Woolf, as well as an omnibus show featuring thirteen of Austen’s female characters--plays all the parts in Lady Susan, the story of a devious aristocratic widow seeking profitable matches for herself and her teenage daughter.

 

The show, which opened last month and has UK tour dates scheduled through October, has been getting excellent reviews (see, for example, here and here).  Some of Dyad’s past performances are available digitally; fingers crossed that Lady Susan eventually joins the list.

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