Jane Austen fans flocked to The Mission Theatre last week to enjoy a jam-packed week of Austen treats. The Mission Theatre team were delighted, to once again, be hosting this prestigious festival now in it’s 19th year! Here is a sample of some of the highlights:
Tuesday 17th September - Book signings and table etiquette
Kicking off the festival, writer Sophie Andrews held an inspirational and intriguing book discussion. This free event proved popular and Sophie was thrilled to be able to share her brand new book Be More Jane with everyone who attended. Offering free book signing, as well as tote bags, key chains and bookmarks to purchase, the audience sat attentively listening to every word.
Ending Day 1, Festival favourite John White mesmerised audience members for 2 hours as he laid out a feast and worked through the do’s and don’ts of 19th Century table etiquette. Set in 1812, John showcased a wide range of spectacular silver and porcelain items which audience members were invited to look over at the end of the show. Demonstrating the complex art of dining and all things table related, Tuesday night finished with an informal Q&A session, at which John knowledgeably answers all questions.
Wednesday 18th September - A thousand pins later!
Wednesday morning was spent leisurely making vintage style bonnets and turbans to match each attendee’s festival outfit. Supervised by the talented Sylvia, from Bath Theatrical Costume Hire, this workshop included the use of vintage sewing machines, delicate embellishments, faultless needle work and expert guidance. The end results were beautifully crafted headwear, which participants were able to showcase for the entirety of the Festival. Bath Theatrical Hire ran a series of workshops for Austen fans throughout the Festival across the city. The Mission Theatre hosted two other sessions which included making your own reticule. Gorgeous silks, golden threads and fluttering feathers were left out for participants to use. Around the city, on non-workshop days, Sylvia and her team were kept busy by dressing up those who had hired from their elaborate wardrobe of 18th century costumes.
Thursday 19th September - Drawers, dogs and dark deeds
Audiences enjoyed a wonderful afternoon treat as Jenny Colquhoun filled the stage with petticoats, stays, corsets and shifts in her enthralling hour-long discussion on all things underwear! The delightful Freddie - Jenny’s dog - joined her on stage, in a matching handmade tail suit, and helped hand out ‘doggy’ bags at the end of the afternoon. Perfect pantaloons, silk shifts and whimsical discussions filled the auditorium as Jenny and the audience discussed what might, or might not, have been worn under ladies dresses!
Thursday evening saw a sold-out performance of Bad Girls and Bonnets. A sea of bold, brash and beautiful garments filled the stage as Lucy Adlington revealed how 18th Century ladies stole luxurious items of that era. Authentic paper cuttings were read throughout the evening, highlighting what the wicked women had stolen. Items such as expensive laces, buttons, gold linings and even whole realms of fabric were all on the list. A captivated audience listened to Lucy re-tell these stories and admired her original Regency wear, as well as some beautifully made replicas for 2 hours. The animated actress shared her top tips on how to get away with stealing, these included stuffing silks and small underwear into your stockings; carrying around a pair of scissors in your reticule to snip off any gold/silver linings from others’ outfits; hiding fabric under your petticoat and always swiping buttons that you fancied for yourself! The evening was filled with fun, facts and laughter and audience members were given the chance to touch and browse Lucy’s items at the end of the evening.
Friday 20th September - Recreating Mr Darcy
Actors and Jane Austen Fans alike took part in a highly-creative 90 minute workshop with professional American actress Karen Eterovich. Attendees embodied their favourite Austen characters through period music, 18th Century art and superb literature. Developing their own Austen-like characters - from her novels, or based on real life - the actors filled the space strutting around the Main Auditorium re-enacting poses from Jane’s most well-known Regency names. With Karen’s expert skills, everyone involved was able to fully embody their favourite character or revamp them in their own way. Here is a picture of 2 Jane Austen dancers striking their best gentleman poses.
Saturday 21st September - The Grand Finale
The final day of the Jane Austen Festival was filled with 3 Austen delights. First up was a sold-out talk with Professor John Mullan. A favourite amongst Festival fans, John captivated his audience for an hour and a half, debating and discussing what really matters in Jane Austen’s novels? Listeners were given the chance to ask John questions and have their Jane Austen books and goodies signed by this first-class speaker.
Saturday afternoon saw a debut performance of Your’s Jane Austen - ‘Austen Sisters’. A play still in its early stages, Harker Studio Productions filled The Mission Theatre stage with their authentic props and glamorous costumes. Headed by actress Susannah Harker (BBC’s Jane Bennett in Pride and Prejudice), this on-script performance was accompanied by live music throughout. This new writing went down well with audiences and all were asked to give honest feedback at the end of the performance in order for it to develop further before its next outing.
The grand finale on Saturday evening of The 2019 Jane Austen Festival, was a returning favourite: Cheer From Chawton, presented by long-time supporter of Next Stage Theatre Company - professional American actress Karen Eterovich. This was the fourth time Karen had performed as part of the Festival.
The one-hour long interactive performance showcased Karen’s multi talented take on Austen’s life. Basing the story in Chawton at a Christmas family party, Karen had members of the audience as the imaginary friends and relations of Jane with Karen herself - using the device of recalling Jane’s younger self - depicting key characters and events from Austen’s novels. Drawing largely on Jane’s own words, Karen took her audience on a delightful journey, helped at times by her talented daughter Alice, Alice’s young friend Dilys, Patrick from California and Georgia, one of the Jane Austen stewards.
A packed auditorium laughed, listened and loved the humour, as well as the pathos, in many aspects of Jane Austen’s life. In a Q&A after the show, audience members were able to ask Karen more about her research and her acting skills with many comments about her faultless English accent and her mastery of dialogue and dance.
It was a very special show and everyone who was lucky enough to see it felt privileged to have been in the audience at The Mission Theatre on Saturday night.