Curtains Up

Curtains Up: Review of The Watsons

The Watsons
Minerva Theatre at Chichester Festival Theatre
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What happens when the writer loses the plot? Emma Watson is nineteen and new in town. She’s been cut off by her rich aunt and dumped back in the family home. Emma and her sisters must marry, fast. If not, they face poverty, spinsterhood, or worse: an eternity with their boorish brother and his awful wife. Luckily there are plenty of potential suitors to dance with, from flirtatious Tom Musgrave to castle-owning Lord Osborne, who’s as awkward as he is rich. So far so familiar. But there’s a problem: Jane Austen didn’t finish the story. Who will write Emma’s happy ending now? Based on her incomplete novel, this sparklingly witty play looks under the bonnet of Jane Austen and asks: what can characters do when their author abandons them?

What the Press say:

“Laura Wade’s bold and playful adaptation of Austen’s unfinished novel is given a beautifully bold, clear production by Samuel West. Stunning.” The Guardian

“Clever, witty and resourceful.” The Stage

“An unpredictable treat, a brilliant, entertaining de-construction” The Observer

Our Reviewer Says:

“Have you ever been in Croydon?” is just one of the deliciously inappropriate comments made by an actor in this sparkling reworking of Jane Austen’s uncompleted novel; The Watsons. Other people have produced their written versions but Laura Wade is the first to make a play out of the fragment left.

The scene opens onto a stage stripped bare with a man lying in the bed and a young girl in Regency dress sitting immobile on the side of the bed. The play continues as a pleasant revival of a Regency novel until the heroine is suddenly violently dissuaded from accepting a marriage proposal by one of the other characters who turns out to be the playwright in disguise. And then there is mayhem with the cast members distraught when they are told they are “only” characters by the playwright! The rest of the play is the working out of the different destinies of the characters aided or hampered by the playwright who has her own issues to resolve!

In today’s world where no young woman has to think about a dowry it is easy to forget the financial imperatives that drove young women to marry any husband in preference to penury in Jane Austen’s day. This play is a salutary reminder of how women’s destinies have changed since Jane Austen’s time.

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