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Esme Nicoll is the motherless daughter of one of the lexicographers working with Oxford English Dictionary’s General Editor Dr James Murray.  In 1887, aged six years, Esme steals a slip for the word ‘bondmaid’ from Murray’s so-called ‘Scriptorium’. It becomes the first of many and the start of her own ‘Dictionary of Lost Words’, her secret quest to rescue lost and disregarded female-centred words and through that her own sense of self. Her obsession tracks her through an early breakdown, work on the OED as an assistant, friendship with a fierce suffragette, a secret pregnancy, the loss of her illegitimate child and then her much-loved father, and later the death of her new husband in World War 1. She does achieve the quasi-publication of her own ‘dictionary’ Women’s Words and their Meanings, but it is her daughter Megan in faraway Australia who claims a fully professional ‘life of the mind’. 


How can a story that spans a hundred years and more, from poverty and squalor to wealth and luxury, from rarefied intelligentsia to epoch-making social change, be condensed into something manageable, or even comprehensible?...To her lasting credit, Verity Laughton has done just that, weaving a wondrous tale that somehow manages to touch on the many themes of the novel, while fleshing out, in prodigious depth, the complexity of the character at the centre of it all.… There is so much to say…. The Dictionary of Lost Words is a must-see. In a first for State Theatre, the entire season sold out before opening, with every effort being made to finds some extra seats. If you can get one, do it. It’s unmissable.

Peter Burdon, The Advertiser, September 28, 2023

…playwright Verity Laughton’s taut adaptation…While 'Dictionary’s next stop is the Sydney Opera House, that will very likely only be the beginning. Like the written word, and Pip Williams' bestseller, this is a production that will spread to everywhere that stories are told.

James Murphy Scenestr, 28.9.23

This brilliant adaptation of a historical novel about the original Oxford English Dictionary drew a standing ovation from the first-night audience at the Sydney Opera House Drama Theatre…  The play resonates with energy in all the human contexts and words it brings to life.

Emeritus Professor Pam Peters, Macquarie University’s The Lighthouse, 30 October 2023


This fabulous adaptation of a best-selling novel

Peter Bleby, Australian Stage, 29 September, 2023


A standing ovation for the marvellous opening night performance of The Dictionary of Lost Words at Dunstan Playhouse Theatre… A truly impactful and important story about the lives of women. Not to be missed!

Lucy Budzynska, Fifty Magazine 28.9.23.

Verity Laughton’s stage adaptation of Pip Williams’ best-selling book is a wonderful work… This is a very clever realisation of Williams’ novel for the stage and gives great power to key moments of this epic story.

Russell Fewster, The Conversation, September 28, 2023


The piece is a real work of art, with each detail carefully considered and placed to bring Williams’ novel to life

Kristin Stefanoff, Glam Adelaide, 27 Sept 2023


Adapted by South Australia’s Verity Laughton…the script is empowering… it has a lot to say and does so in a way that conveys great pride.

Heather Taylor Johnson, Indaily, September 28, 2023.

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