Laura Wade’s new play The Watsons will be directed in Chichester by her partner Samuel West.
‘And it has been lovely,’ says Laura. ‘He has worked on things of mine before, but it is the first time he has directed something of mine. We had the idea that doing a show together like this couldn’t be harder than having two children together. And so far that has been true!’
‘But also he is a brilliant, brilliant director. He doesn’t direct as much as I would like him to because people are always wanting him to act which he is also brilliant at doing. But he was a big fan of this script which I have been working on for a number of years, and he suggested that we try to do it in Chichester.
‘What makes him such a good director is that he is also an actor. He knows what it means to act. He knows how to talk to actors, how to explain things to them in a way that helps, that he is able to give notes which are enabling rather than stifling. I think he is also really good at seeing the bigger picture. He is good at being the conduit for all the creative people involved in the production. He is the person that sound and lighting and everyone else talks to, and it is the director that needs to make everyone feel involved and valued.’
As for the play itself, it answers the question: what happens to the characters when their author walks out on them?
The piece has been adapted from the unfinished novel by Jane Austen.
‘I came across this unfinished Jane Austen, and I have been a Jane Austen fan for a long time. I thought this unfinished novel was brilliant and I wanted to share it. It has been published but people don’t really know very much about it. She wrote the big six completed novels, and then you can buy a book which has got several unfinished pieces in it.
‘But the interesting thing is that usually with an unfinished novel it is because the author has died, but with this one, Jane Austen wrote it in the middle of her life and why she stopped writing it nobody really knows. It is very Jane Austen. The characters are very, very Jane Austen. You read it, and you start to think you might know where these characters are going. The characters are there, brilliantly alive, and then it stops… and really the work is about me wanting to find out what happens to them and being able to share it with the audience. The book sort of trails off. My thought was what happens to these characters when their author runs out of steam. That was my starting point…
‘Some people think Jane Austen stopped because her father was ill, and it was certainly an unhappy period of her life. It is also thought that the characters in the piece are just a bit too near her own situation, and it was not a happy time for her. She had a certain degree of celebrity during her life time, but not as much as she had after she died, and she was living in fairly straitened financial circumstances. And she was writing about a heroine who was in a fairly similar predicament…’
So wasn’t it a bit presumptuous of Laura to finish it off for her?
‘Any entitlement to meddle in a book by such a wonderful author was something that I had a question about in my head when I began, but I think the way you deal with that is that you are not trying to do something she would have done; you try to do something much more respectful of her legendary status.’