Next Best Thing productions

Lady Susan
Directing Lady Susan

Next Best Thing productions - Lady Susan by Jane Austen

We don’t stand still here at Next Best Thing, we’re always up for trying something new. So when I got chatting to the good people at Off the Shelf, Sheffield’s annual literary festival, it struck me that here was an opportunity to use our unique talents in a different way. We found a fantastic new venue in the beautiful St Oswald’s Church in Millhouses and I raided my bookshelves for a suitably literary piece that we could also bring a sense of the theatrical to. With the Off the Shelf brochure print deadline looming I turned to a project I had first considered 15 years ago: a rehearsed reading of an early Jane Austen novella called Lady Susan.  Here was the story of well-to-do, yet very dysfunctional eighteenth century family (think “Dangerous Liaisons” meets “Shameless”), told through the characters’ letters. Austen’s talent as a teenage novelist is remarkable, each character is distinctive and believable and the tone is bitingly sharp and witty. Thanks to the ever-growing repertory company of Next Best Thing actors I was able to get a dream cast assembled and to bring the book to life. Large parts of the letters use reported speech, so about a quarter of the action was easy to dramatise. The rest we left as the characters reading out the words they have written, producing a kind of staged radio play. Mindful of the visual side of things, we endeavoured to get as many beautiful frocks for our actresses as we could blag and happily the results were as good as any stage play.

Special mention must go to Fuchsia Darley who, with the assistance of Rachel Nutland, got all the make-up and Regency hairstyles done with the bare minimum of time and space backstage. Looking back Lady Susan was a brave experiment that perhaps suffered from its own success. St Oswald’s did prove an atmospheric venue and with a better seating plan for our next production should become a viable theatrical space. I must add my thanks to a superb cast, some of whom have bravely stuck by Next Best Thing for the whole two years we have been performing in Sheffield, to the House of Gowns for providing Lady Susan herself with a suitably sexy evening dress and to Father Brian Coleman at St. Oswald’s for his unstinting support and patience throughout the project.

Lady Susan:
About the Play         Writing Lady Susan


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