So happy to say that my adaptation of the wonderful Pip Williams’ best-selling novel, The Dictionary of Lost Words has just been announced as part of the 2023 Sydney Theatre Company season. It’s a co-production with another MPAB company but as they haven’t yet launched their season for 2023, I’ll keep mum as to which one it is.
Pip Williams describes her book as beginning with two simple questions: “Do words mean different things to men and women? And if they do, is it possible that we have lost something in the process of defining them?” Her conceptual achievement in the novel is folding this theme into a (real) circumstance. The word ‘bondmaid’ was lost from the first published parts of the Oxford English Dictionary. Williams presents her protagonist, Esme Nicoll, the (fictional) motherless daughter of one of the lexicographers working with the overall editor, Sir James Murray to compile the OED, as being the accidental thief of the lost word. And the rest of her story evolves from that moment. It encompasses feminism, suffragism, the intellectual ferment of millennial Oxford, and the advent of World War I, which changes everything.
It’s been a lovely gig so far. I’ve been working away since commissioned in 2021. Two extremely useful workshops down and one to go (November this year – I think!). I’ve also recently had the chance to research the places where the story is set, namely Oxford and Bath, walking in my/our protagonist Esme’s steps and getting a feel for the atmosphere of the surroundings that dominated her life.
The image above is of the section of the Oxford Canal where Esme’s father Harry talks to his lost wife Lily. The one just below is of the so-called ‘Scriptorium’, the glorified shed in James Murray’s garden at Banbury Road in Oxford where most of the work for the OED was done.
So. October (nameless city) and November (Sydney) 2023. Hope I can see at least some of you there!