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Between the Sheets with Jane Austen

Playwright Steven Dawson has a way with words. And it’s more than a bit of wink wink nudge nudge, there’s some seriously hot blooded action going on between his sheets… of paper. Now Jane Austen is not the kind of lady you’d necessarily associate with that kind of thing, but  courtesy of Melbourne’s Out Cast Theatre she’ll be getting her fingers dirty for  Perth Pride as one of the central characters in Steven Dawson’s play ‘Jane Austen’s Guide to Pornography’.  OUTinPerth’s Zoe Carter caught up with Steven Dawson to see what exactly is going on under the covers

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Zoe Carter: Tell me about ‘Jane Austen’s Guide to Pornography’?

Steven Dawson: It’s about a playwright who’s trying to change his style of writing. Instead of writing his usual tawdry sex comedies he’s trying to get a bit more romance into it. At the same time he seems to be connected in some way to Jane Austen who’s trying to finish her last novel and she’s trying to get a bit more sex into it. They start to give each other ideas – they’re talking across time to each other.

Also, there’s a story within the story. There’s two actors who are rehearsing for a Jane Austen play, and that’s how they meet and how they relate to each other as they’re falling in love – that’s the main connection.

ZC: What’s with the juxtaposition of Jane Austen with a writer of tawdry sex comedies?

SD: People might see that the writer is based on me… well only slightly… could be that I’ve written 70 plays and most of them are tawdry sex comedies, but this one’s quite different anyway. And you know, I like that style of writing. Jane seemed to be the obvious thing – she’s going through a traumatic time at the time we’ve placed her in the story. It’s only few months before her death, so she’s trying to finish her last novel and go out with a bang… and he’s trying not to go out with a bang

ZC: Was it challenging working with a completely different writing style?

SD: I read Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility about fifty times each, I knew actually what the style of the dialogue would be so that was actually about it, once I sat down and started writing Jane’s dialogue it flowed really easily.

Many people who have seen the show before (it showed earlier this year in Melbourne) were saying they were amazed at how beautiful the language is, you can actually believe that it’s Jane saying this sort of stuff anyway.

She did start writing another novel before she died, called Sanditon, so I’ve even used a tiny little bit of that as well, what’s left over from the notes, I’ve been able to incorporate into the script, the feel of it anyway

ZC: Do you have a favourite Jane Austen novel?

SD: I think Sense and Sensibility is a beautiful piece. I grew up seeing the original Pride and Prejudice movie with Greer Garson, and I just started loving it from there. I’m not a complete Jane Austen fan, but I do like her writing when I get a chance to read it. She’s a lush romantic and that’s what I like – it’s certainly not what I write normally.

The people who have seen my work previously will get the jokes about the writer’s dilemma about producing all these shows that are just guaranteed to have nudity and things like that. I’m pretty much taking the piss out of myself. Even the critics over here have picked that up and seen it’s a bit of  tongue in cheek stuff  about all the work that I do and what I’m probably recognised for more than anything else.

People come to see the sexy bit, and they come to hear the filthy dialogue and the funny jokes and one liners I’m probably renowned for, but then I switch it around to give them a bit more of a story about half way through once they’ve started to relate to the characters. Then, I can take them anywhere. So it’s about getting them on side with the humour and all that sort of stuff…. And the sex doesn’t hurt either…

ZC: Blue Room is really intimate. Is that confronting for the actors taking their kit off?

SD: It’s not too bad actually. You have to be sitting in the right seat to see anything.

ZC: And which seat’s that?

SD: [laughs] I’m not telling anybody. It used to be actually they’d always sit on the right hand side because that’s the way I used to block my actors, but I’ve cottoned onto that…

The nude scene in this one is very tasteful… The sex scenes… the eighteenth century rodgering in the field, well they’re a bit disgusting – they’re actually just filthy, and the dialogue is just horrendous. Sometimes even I blush.

When Jane has her little outbreak, her first go, at writing pornography she faints on stage… She’s shocked by her own filthy mouth… it’s quite fun!

ZC: So, what should audiences expect from ‘Jane Austen’s Guide to Pornography’?

SD: Some disgusting language, a bit of nudity on stage and some very funny lines – I think they’ll find this is very moving as well – it is a love story.

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