I would critically urge anybody planning to attend Laura Wade’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s unfinished novel, The Watsons, to cease studying now since one of many play’s many pleasures is its capability to endlessly take us abruptly. We go in anticipating a literary train and are available out having seen a philosophical comedy.

Wade performs truthful in briskly dramatising the occasions of Austen’s fragment. Emma Watson, after being stylishly reared by a Shropshire aunt, returns after 14 years to the genteel poverty of the Surrey household house. Marriage, for Emma and her sisters, appears a matter of financial necessity and varied candidates current themselves at a neighborhood ball. One, Tom Musgrave, is a immodest flirt; one other, Lord Osborne, is a diffident aristo; a 3rd, Mr Howard, is a sententious clergyman. Who will Emma select with a purpose to escape from her personal discordant household?

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A lesser dramatist, seizing on hints from Austen’s sister that Emma would reject the lord and marry the cleric, might need gone on to provide us interval pastiche. However, simply as Wade turned the tables on us in House, I’m Darling by displaying the ersatz nature of the 1950s milieu, so right here she upsets the applecart by making a author known as Laura pivotal to the motion. Laura finds herself confronting a puzzled, indignant Emma about her future. This has a ripple impact through which all of the characters query Laura’s authority and even threaten to take over the story.

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Having a ball … The Watsons.

Having a ball … The Watsons. {Photograph}: Manuel Harlan

The debt to Pirandello’s Six Characters in Search of An Writer is overtly acknowledged however it’s repaid with curiosity. Wade goes past the Pirandellian proposition that phantasm is actuality to launch a debate in regards to the shifting standing of a dramatic or literary creation.

In a single sense, it’s absurd to say {that a} character takes over from the creator: all of the phrases spoken listed below are written by Wade. But, within the case of Austen, her folks and plots have a vigorous extratextual life, as John Mullan reminds us within the programme, with references to Vampire Darcy’s Want and a web-based video monologue, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.

I liked Wade’s method as a result of it’s playful and critical on the identical time. It wrestles with the impertinence of finishing a literary fragment, but it rejoices within the limitless potentialities this affords. Even when it a few times appears to be coruscating on skinny ice, it is usually given a fantastically daring, clear manufacturing by Samuel West and a tremendous design by Ben Stones. We begin in a pristine Austen drawing room, which opens as much as develop into a battleground of concepts embracing Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau.

The appearing can also be wonderful. Louise Ford as Laura captures each the desperation and delight of a dramatist who finds her supposed omniscience challenged. Grace Molony as Emma exhibits how the full of life wit of Austen’s character interprets into mutinous fury when she finds she is outwardly entrapped in a fiction; and there may be wealthy help from Sally Bankes as a disarmingly educated Nanny, and Tim Delap because the archetypal poker-backed clergyman.

Writers generally inform you {that a} character has the capability to dictate occasions. Wade has seized on this pressure between authorial management and imaginative freedom to create a shocking play.

On the Minerva, Chichester, till 1 December.


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