My name is Neill Shanahan. I am a US-based, aspiring playwright who has written a stage adaptation of Lady Audley’s Secret. I am interested in starting a conversation with an organization (e.g. theatre, school or university with a drama program) who might potentially have an interest in producing it.
I became interested in this project, when in search of a mid- to late-nineteenth century work to adapt, I discovered Mary Elizabeth Braddon. We all know and love the great novelists of the era, Auden, the Brontës, Dickens, Hardy etc. and we’ve seen many wonderful adaptations, both in film and on stage, of their masterpieces. I was interested in “finding” and author who had a great deal to say, but who’s voice, at least in our current time, isn’t heard nearly as often.
Braddon was such a voice. Ironically, she may have had more contemporary popularity, and was certainly far more prolific than, say, Auden, but given that the “sensationalist” genre came to be seen in the twentieth century as less, well, literary, more of a popularized one, not unlike the trade fiction of our own time, her presence faded.
Lady Audley’s Secret, is the story of a desperate, impoverished young woman, raised in the most disadvantageous circumstances who possessed but one asset, a burning determination to do better and to escape her terrible circumstances by any means possible.
She thought, of course, her only asset was her beauty, but it became her vehicle. Her determination. To pursue any opportunity at all, she could do but one thing, run away and lie to the world in which she found herself as to who she was. When ultimately successful in achieving fortune and status, she would continue to lie and take murderous actions to protect that status and the secret support she was sending to her little boy.
Society’s structure and norms at the time made this path the only path she could choose. No other course was open to her. Society utterly closed off the rise of any young woman in her situation as it granted no autonomy to women in the first place.
In my attempt to underscore the genius and poignancy of Braddon’s tale, I’ve altered certain details of the story. I believe that is what an adaptation of a work from a different era must do on occasions in order to capture the original’s relevant essence. This adaptation shifts the focus from Robert Audley’s detective perspective and the attendant cat-and-mouse game to the why of the story, the motives and character of Helen Talboys and enhances, perhaps, the arc of her trajectory. My objective has been to tell the story in a way that fully resonates with modern feminist perspectives, sensibilities and values.
If you would be interested in reading and potentially discussing this work, please feel free to contact me. I’d be delighted to hear from you.