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Playwright Laura Turner talks to Rosy Moorhead about adapting a Jane Austen classic for the stage
Two sisters, one prudent, the other romantic, are out for a walk in the rain. One slips in the mud and falls and is rescued by a passing gentleman and the two promptly fall in love. The sisters are of course Sense and Sensibility’s Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, and the knight in shining armour the dashing Mr Willoughby, and their mud-spattered meeting is the springboard for the siblings’ first forays into love, heartbreak and the delicacies of Regency society.
The task of adapting such a well-known and well loved classic for the stage has fallen to Laura Turner, the resident scriptwriter with Chapterhouse Theatre Company.
“I love Jane Austen!” she says. “I studied her at university, and Sense and Sensibility is probably my favourite novel by her. It’s a really wonderful story. It’s not just a love story, it’s about the relationship between the two sisters as well.”
So how do you go about adapting such a classic piece of literature for the stage?
“I definitely felt the pressure of people’s expectations - everybody’s seen so many adaptations on TV and stage. I went straight back to the novel - I just wanted Jane Austen’s novel, seen through my eyes.
“I felt a great sense of loyalty to the novel - I used the original dialogue wherever possible. For the stage, it’s about finding ways to make that dialogue visually interesting and dramatic. It’s all about finding the compromise between staying very true to the novel and being successful in a different format.”
As well as her adaptations, Laura also writes the scripts for the company’s children’s shows and continues to work on her own, original material. In 2010, she took part in the BBC’s New Talent summer school, which involved writing an episode of EastEnders spin-off programme E20. Screenwriting is something she’d love to do more of in the future. “It’d be my dream to work on a show like EastEnders or Casualty and write my own plays for theatre.”
But, in the meantime, she’s happily continuing her work at Chapterhouse, where she has been since 2007. “They gave me my first opportunity to write professionally so I feel a real loyalty to them. I do other projects but when I come back to do a play here, it really does feel like coming home to old friends, it’s lovely.”
Sense and Sensibility is at Radlett Centre, Aldenham Avenue, Radlett on Tuesday, February 28 at 8pm. Details: 01923 859291, www.radlettcentre.co.uk
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