The Jane Austen Festival in Bath

An Insider's View It's official! The Jane Austen Festival in Bath will be an annual event. Following the successful launch of the Festival on the 200th anniversay of the Austens moving into 4, Sydney Place, the go-ahead has been officially given for next year event - and this time the festival will be over a week long! Saturday September 21 - Sunday 29th are the proposed dates. Amanda Root as Anne Elliot Mellow autumn weather gave us a fitting backdrop to the events of last weekend - all those leaves floating over Queen Square in "desolate tranquillity" provided the "apt analogy" for "Persuasion" star Amada Root, who came to answer audience questions after a special screening of the 1995 adaptation. I was fortunate enough to meet Amanda at the centre in the afternoon and I was struck by her genuine charm and modesty. It's not surprising that in many people's minds, she is Anne Elliot - or even Jane Austen herself, though this is stretching a point, knowing Jane's own insistence that Anne was far too good for her creator! On the Saturday,warm sunshine and peacock skies brought many out to the Bus Tours round Beechen Cliff and up to the Assembly Rooms to trace the footsteps of Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney. At the Jane Austen Centre, we were too busy with a final rehearsal of "Poppy and Porage" to get to the opening of 4, Sydney Place. Anyway, it was a sell-out, for many people have expressed an interest in actually being within the four walls that housed Jane for three years. However, the actual rooms are at present interesting only as a future shrine in the making. The property is privately owned and sub-let as rooms - and is full of that indefinable atmosphere that someone has recently left! Actress Kim Hicks who also performed at the 2000 JASNA AGM Later in the afternoon, I climbed up to Jane Tapley's beautiful Regency house on Upper Camden Place for her talk on Georgian Bath, followed by actress Kim Hicks' superb readings from Jane's works. In the intimate setting of Jane's drawing room overlooking the city, a select audience were filmed by The South Bank Show for a programme destined for next February on the continuing importance of the novel. A very civilised and enjoyable way to spend Saturday teatime. Next came Phoenix Theatre's production of "Pride and Prejudice" in the BRSLI building overlooking Queen Square. This, too, was very well attended and John Dunne's unusual take - giving the familiar story from the viewpoint of Mr and Mrs Bennet - was refreshingly different. Poppy & Porage After the Georgian Sunday Lunch, it was time for the premiere of my own play, "Poppy and Porage in the Labyrinth". Commissioned specifically for the festival, I wrote it in August - cast it by August 21st - and directed it in September! Hard work, yes, but I was proud to think that only eight weeks ago, neither "hard-boiled" feminist Poppy or claret-swilling bluff Porage even existed - and here were my colleague Judith Lacey and local Am-Dram king, Ken Miller, impersonating my creations to the life! My Woman in Black, Elizabeth Gibson gave a truly chilling performance as the heckler in the audience. Her correct profile by the window onto Gay Street uncannily echoed that silhouette of Cassandra on the wall in the lecture room at the centre. Her role was to make a case for privacy and propriety while leading the purient academics deeper into the labyrinth. The sell-out audience paid us the compliment of listening intently and laughing at the jokes, particularly to the references to the dumbing-down of biography via the popular "biopic" films. After all our efforts, the four of us intend to take it further - to groups out there studying either JA or the nature of biography. It takes just under an hour and needs minimum space and props. Any takers? Speaking personally, the festival offered this struggling writer a timely distraction from tragic events over which she had control. In troubled times, the Wise Woman, we are told, gets on with her life as normal. Either the world is going to end or the world is not going to end. If not, she will look foolish if she stops work. If it does end, then she will look as if she has been lazy with her talents! No-one who has been directly concerned with this Festival can be accused of being lazy. Our hope and confidence is restored by planning for the future here in Bath. Sue Le Blond lives in Bradford-on-Avon and works part-time at the Jane Austen Centre as a guide. She is a freelance writer, creative writing teacher and theatre reviewer. Her play, "Poppy and Porage in the Labyrinth", was performed at the Jane Austen Festival on Sunday 30th September. Sue welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email via sue@le-blond.freeserve.co.uk. Enjoyed this article? Visit our giftshop and escape into the world of Jane Austen.

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