From book to play
Jane Austen's Emma has been embraced by modern pop culture through adaptations for television series, movies and plays. The loose modern adaptation, Clueless (1995), starring Alicia Silverstone, has become a cult classic. But with all adaptations, the events of the novel are altered and condensed. Even so, Sandra Fenichel-Asher has been true to the original works, celebrating the intriguing characters and intricate plot design. Director Joanna Butler and USQ designers have all tried to accurately portray an insightful and historically correct representation of the Regency period and of Jane Austen's events and characters.
Emma Woodhouse lives with her widowed father on their estate Hartfield and they are at the upper rung of the social ladder in her eyes. Her governess Miss Anne Taylor has just married and now lives happily with Mr Weston. Emma believes she arranged this marriage, and due to her assumed success, Emma decides to take Harriet Smith underwing and arrange a match for her. Emma disapproves of Mr Robert Martin, a tenant farmer who proposes to Harriet, and dissuades her from him but Emma's wise older friend Mr George Knightley chastises her for her manipulations, insisting that Mr Martin is of higher class than Harriet and would have been a good match. Emma tries instead to get Harriet and the vicar Mr Elton matched, however he declares his love for Emma, much to her displeasure and Harriet's subsequent distress.
After having left hurriedly, Mr Elton returns from Bath with a fiancée, Miss Augusta Hawkins, an upwardly mobile and rather vulgar woman who does not please Emma. Mrs Weston then decides to plot a match between Jane and Mr Knightley, which Emma discourages. Emma and Frank then visit Jane at the Bates' and Frank teases Jane about the origin of the piano and the accompanying Irish music. Frank plans a ball at the Crown Inn but before it can occur, he is called back to his ailing aunt. Before leaving, he almost confesses something to Emma - is he in love with her?
Harriet is rescued from an attack by gypsies on a country road and she resolves to put Mr Elton out of her mind and to love Mr Knightley, though Emma mistakenly thinks Frank is the object of her affection. When Mrs Churchill conveniently dies, the Weston's inform Emma that Frank and Jane are now engaged and in fact have been secretly engaged since last October, before she came to Highbury, and Frank is roundly criticized for his deception.
Harriet then tells Emma that she loves Knightley - Emma suddenly realizes her own love for him and laments the possibility of losing him. Mr Knightley returns from a visit to London, consoling Emma mistakenly thinking she was in love with Frank. When she denies this, he declares his love for her. Harriet decides to return to her engagement to Mr Martin, about which Emma is pleased.