The Watsons at Minerva Theatre, Chichester review: ‘It’s not often you see something so inspired and inspiring’

The Watsons. Picture by Manuel Harlan
The Watsons. Picture by Manuel Harlan

It’s not often I rush home to write a review – but then it’s not often you see something so inspired and inspiring.

In 1805, a twenty-something Jane Austen abandoned writing her novel The Watsons after five chapters.  
Many have attempted to complete the book after her death – but Laura Wade’s play is the first adaptation for the stage, and this is its premiere.
It all starts much as you’d expect an Austen tale to go; high society, offers of marriage, a feisty and witty young heroine named Emma, played sublimely by Grace Molony.
But this is soon shattered with the arrival of Laura herself in a meta-twist which could have been self indulgent but struck the perfect balance between being thought-provoking and hilarious.
I never thought I’d compare Austen to Westworld or Blade Runner - but yet this is how Wade continues the novelist’s tale.
Once the characters realise they aren’t real humans, they rebel against their second creator.
But instead of killing sprees, we get a lesbian romance and a shindig soundtracked by Uptown Funk by Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson.
On paper, it sounds far-fetched. But as the characters we see exist in Laura’s imagination, it all makes sense – and trust me, it has to be seen to be believed.
My only gripe was the staging at the beginning of the second half, which blocked my view of all of the cast bar Laura’s character.
But despite this, it is the best thing I’ve seen at the CFT all year, without a doubt. 
Until December 1.