Guest post from Isabel Snowden!

Isabel Snowden is the director of An Evening at Home with the Austens, and as we get ready to go on tour, she’s written us a guest blog. Enjoy!

As well as running Ruffled Umbrella, I am privileged enough to work at Jane Austen’s House Museum in Chawton, Hampshire. One of my favourite tasks there is shutting down the cottage at the end of the day.  While it is always lovely closing the shutters and ‘tucking in’ the house for the night, I felt so much more poignant doing so last week as it was the anniversary of Jane Austen’s death. It struck me as slightly odd but, as I was closing each of the rooms it felt like I was saying goodbye to her, someone whom I had never met and had lived her life centuries before I even began mine. That is one of the beguiling things about Jane Austen, you feel as if you know her. Through the snippets of information left through her novels and correspondence and the recollections of family members, fans of Jane Austen are able to piece together a person they would like to know. People identify with different facets of her personality, the eternal romantic, the modernising feminist or the quick witted satirist but, there is always something for her fans to connect with.

As I was contemplating the mature Jane Austen at the end of her sadly too short life it got me thinking about our upcoming tour and the enjoyment of introducing our audience to a side of Jane Austen they may not know about. The concept of ‘An Evening at Home with the Austens’ is to explore the very early writings of this creative genius and to see her experiment with different styles and scenarios.   In her juvenilia Jane Austen parodies the popular writers of the time, pokes fun at various monarchs and puts her own satirical spin on society’s mores. You can glimpse certain parallels from her novels and see how she started to develop her own style. As well as enjoying stories they may not be familiar with, I hope the audience take pleasure in seeing a young Jane Austen full of energy and enthusiasm, and have a jolly good laugh along with her and her family.

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Ever fancied hanging out with the Austens?

One of the unique aspects of The Ruffled Umbrella Company’s production is that it allows the audience to mingle and chat with the Austen family. The family talk between themselves while setting up the stage – arguing and bickering as many families do – while also greeting the audience. 

We performed in a theatre in Bath, but set it in Steventon Rectory in 1792. When audience members arrived, we asked them where they were from – as the majority were from Bath, a long way to travel in 1792, it was a lot of fun for us! Incidentally, Isabel’s parents travelled from Hampshire, so some of our furthest audience members for Bath, but our closest for our characters in Steventon!

I very much enjoyed playing the flirtatious Eliza, which I’ve previously mentioned in my very first post! I also got to talk a lot about how sophisticated I was,my sun, and got to tease Jane about her not being “out” yet. It also meant I did the least work in actually setting up the stage, as I figured Eliza would be much more interested in talking to people.

Jane and Henry’s relationship was also very funny, as Jane was so focused on getting it exactly right, and Henry really didn’t know what he was doing, despite being the compère! This meant they could have little spats that the audience found very amusing. Obviously these interpretations are our own, but I hope they gave a sense of what these characters may have been like in real life. 

It worked fantastically for the show as a whole, as it warmed the audience up and got them laughing before it had even started, which was very important as it was a comedy! Here’s hoping we get the same response when we take it on tour in July!