Literary score

NEW MUSIC: Singer-songwriter and composer Emmy the Great.
NEW MUSIC: Singer-songwriter and composer Emmy the Great.
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A new adaptation of Pride and Prejudice opened in York this week, with an original score and songs by Emmy the Great. She spoke to Yvette Huddleston.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a classic novel can always be updated and adapted for a new generation.

Jane Austen’s much-loved Pride and Prejudice is a case in point. There have been numerous stage, television and film versions and the latest incarnation is a theatre piece by comedian Sara Pascoe.

A co-production between York Theatre Royal and Nottingham Playhouse, it opened in York this week and Pascoe’s take on one of the most famous love stories ever penned is intelligent, playful, witty and of the moment, with, as you might expect, the emphasis on comedy.

“I am massively excited to be demonstrating Austen’s courage and wit to a new generation of theatre-goers,” she says. “I hope our fresh and funny version will make existing Pride and Prejudice fans fall in love with the characters all over again.”

The play, directed by Susannah Tresilian, has a specially commissioned score and original songs written by singer-songwriter and composer Emmy the Great. She is a great fan of Austen’s work and has previous experience with the author, having written the original music for the 2013 film Austenland, a romantic comedy partly set in a theme park devoted to all things associated with Jane.

“I love Austen so I do often get asked to work on projects connected with her,” says Emmy. “And I am always very happy to open my copy of Pride and Prejudice again.”

The skill of transforming a novel into a stage play is one thing – but how do you create music to match the mood of a book written in the early 19th century while imbuing it with a 21st century sensibility?

For Emmy, books played a big part in her preparation and research. “It involved a lot of reading which I love. Sara and Susannah both have serious literary minds and we started sharing the books we were all reading and passing them around. I really found that the most enjoyable thing. I wrote the music surrounded by all these wonderful books about Austen’s life and work and about women in the 19th century.”

She says that she and Susannah and Sara started to talk about the music even before the play was written and then at every stage of its development. “It made my job really easy – I was never in the dark and I think that collaborative way of working is really the best way.” Having previously worked on TV and film scores where the music was recorded, writing for a live stage play required a slightly different approach. “The music has to flow around the actors rather than telling them what to do. It was challenging, but really cool. Sara’s adaptation is very faithful to the book in some ways but in other ways it rips it apart so I tried to reflect that in the music.”

Working as part of the team on Pride and Prjeudice has been, she says, hugely enjoyable. “It has been such a pleasure to work with two giant brains in Sara and Susannah and they are so kind and open. It has been one of the nicest work experiences of my life”

Her next project is to begin writing songs for a new album – and that too will involve plenty of literary activity. Books are, she says, an important influence on all her work. “I think I spend most of my time thinking about books or reading,” she says. “They have an enormous impact on everything I write.”

Pride and Prejudice, at York Theatre Royal to October 14.