Playwrights know that scripts don’t really come to life until the words are actually spoken aloud. It’s only at that point that it becomes possible to judge the their dramatic effectiveness. When the teenage Jane Austen wrote the novels, plays and other works that make up what is now known as her Juvenilia, she intended them to be passed around and read aloud to amuse her family and friends. She wanted her words to come alive. Everything she wrote between the ages of twelve and seventeen is full of the kind of lively dialogue and vivid characterisation familiar to us from her adult novels, although her plots are farcical and her tone is satirical. It’s not surprising that Pride and Prejudice, Emma and her other great novels have been successfully dramatised many times over.
As far as I could discover, before I adapted three pieces for Young Jane, published in 2016 by 2timetheatre, the Juvenilia had never previously been dramatised for performance. Inspired by the enthusiastic reception of Young Jane, my next project was to adapt several more of the pieces for Meeting Miss Austen. Drunken Alice, lovelorn Tom and the disagreeable and snobbish Lady Greville seemed to demand to come to life on stage.
Two of the pieces I had chosen had been left unfinished. Would it be possible to find a way of completeing them, while remaining true to the anarchic spirit of the teenage Jane? My first task was to find a sympathetic but discriminating audience. I invited a few friends – among them writers, actors and theatre-lovers – to read the pieces for me. Their reactions and comments were extremely helpful and enlightening. They suggested that the character of Lady Greville could be further developed and insisted on the need for a happy ending for Tom and Henrietta in ‘Love Letters’. After making these changes, I enlisted the help of several talented young people from The Discarded Nut Theatre Company. We read the script several times, and I was delighted that the young people seemed very impressed by the teenage Austen’s energy and wit.
The premiere of Meeting Miss Austen will be at the Winchester’s Discovery Centre on July 8th and 9th of July as part of the Winchester Festival.