Our Artistic Assistant, Alex, was lucky enough to chat to Deborah McAndrew, who has adapted The Tenant of Wildfell Hall for the stage, to ask her more about the story
When did you discover the novel, Deborah?
I can’t remember when it was exactly, but I would say about 25 years ago. I read Agnes Grey first, also by Anne, and it astonished me. Then I read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. I was so struck by the stark realism of alcoholism and adultery in the story. I remember thinking about Anne and the rage that is there in her writing. In Helen, she has written a very passionate character who is trying to contain that passion.
Why do you think this story isn’t as well-known as Wuthering Heights, for example?
It’s hard to say why exactly. Charlotte had time to grow as a writer because she lived longer. And Wuthering Heights is just such an iconic story – I loved it when I was growing up. It might be because of the nature of Anne’s writing and the themes she wants to explore. But I really want people to discover her writing – it has everything you could want. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall deals with things that we are still talking about today – it’s about equality in marriage and equality in life and how it’s better for women and men. Anne is such a bright and intelligent writer.
What have the challenges been in adapting the novel?
I think one of the challenges is working out the practicalities – asking where the drama is in the story and how that translates onto stage. I wanted big scenes where we see characters go on a real journey rather than lots of little scenes. The main thing was trusting myself to do justice to the story. I hope that, when people see the play, they won’t know when it’s me writing and when it’s Anne – that’s the Holy Grail of adapting a novel.
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is playing at the Octagon Theatre from Thu 30 March - Sat 22 April 2017 before opening at York Theatre Royal.