WGBH: A dive into the murky world of Victorian England

Publication date: 
December 15, 2016
Jared Bowen



Bob Seay: Well, lots to talk about this morning. We start out with the current production at the American Repertory Theater.

Jared Bowen: Yeah, Fingersmith just opened officially last night and it’s playing through January 8th at the A.R.T. It’s a dive into the murky world of Victorian England with all its devious denizens. This is a very interesting piece based on a 2002 novel by Sarah Waters. And I will try to explain this without being too complicated or without giving too many spoilers. But it is set during the Victorian era, and you have this Dickensian character in Mrs. Sucksby who resides over a family of fingersmiths – uh, pickpockets and con artists…

BS: Ah, that’s what a fingersmith is…

JB: Yes! And so she has her mark – she finds her mark in this heiress in this far away mansion and the way to get to that mark, and to get to her fortune, is to have one of her colleagues marry her and the plan is: he will marry her, get her money, and place her in a lunatic asylum. The other way to do that is she needs somebody to get in their first, to whisper in her ear to tell her to marry this man. So she sends in Sue Trinder to be this woman who’s going to be this liaison for all of this. And then interesting things begin to happen between these two women and there are lots of twists and turns here. Yesterday, I had the chance to speak with its director Bill Rauch about Fingersmith and how the playwright Alexa Junge convinced him to adapt this piece for the stage.

[A recording of an interview with Jared Bowen and Bill Rauch plays]

Bill Rauch: She had read it and fallen in love with the book and was so passionate about it, and she brought it to me and she said, “I feel like this book belongs on stage.” And I read the book and I was completely in its grip immediately. It kind of defines page-turner, you know, it’s such a thrilling story. And the challenges of bringing it to stage appealed to me immediately.

JB: And Bob, that’s part of what makes this such a winning production is that it, first of all, it’s very novel – no pun intended. But it’s got a large cast, there are many elements, there’s a lot of staging here. It’s original, we’re seeing something that’s not based on a film as we’ve seen with so many larger productions today. But it’s something that has been very well crafted and brought to the stage here – high caliber cast. And there’s something else that really captivated me and I also spoke with Bill Rauch. By the way, you know his name as the director of All the Way with Bryan Cranston at the A.R.T. a couple of years ago that ultimately went to Broadway. But I also asked him, when I was filling in with Marjorie Egan on BPR yesterday, about the feminism that comes to the fore here and we’re really looking at this through the lens of these women.

[The interview recording plays again]

BR: What I love about Sarah Waters’ work and Alexa Junge, the playwright who’s adapted it, is that the female characters are center stage. And Sarah really has reimagined different historical eras from a contemporary feminist point of view. So it is very Dickensian, it is very much of its period, there’s tons of authenticity, but it is also looking at that point of view from a very contemporary feminist perspective.

JB: And Bob, the final thing I’ll say is, just be sure you’re caffeinated when you go here. There are lots of twists and turns you definitely have to be paying attention. It’s a great way to – a great reason to be engaged at the theater.

BS: Alright, Fingersmith at the A.R.T.


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