Laura Wade was 17 when her first play was professionally produced. “That made me absolutely sure I wanted to be a playwright,” she says. “It was an overwhelmingly intoxicating experience.” Wade went on to study drama at Bristol University—“I tried acting, I tried directing, stage management, and a little bit of producing, which I was terrible at”—and, after graduating, picked up temp jobs in London before being taken on as a writer at the Soho Theatre, where her play Colder than Here was produced a year later.
But it was writing Posh, an acute play that cauterizes the English upper classes, for the Royal Court Theatre in 2010 that brought Wade international notoriety. Wade’s caustic script—later adapted into The Riot Club, a film starring the British Brat Pack of Douglas Booth, Sam Claflin, and Max Irons—harpooned the inner workings of the arrogant English elite, and audiences devoured it. Last year, Wade’s dissection of the saccharine 1950s ideal, Home, I’m Darling, earned her an Olivier, Britain’s highest honor in the theater. “Obviously those things completely don’t matter, until you get one. Then it does,” she says. “It … feels like an acknowledgment.”
The Watsons, Wade’s latest play, is 216 years in the making. “I was looking for a classic to adapt that could be quite commercial, so I went away and found an unfinished thing that no one had heard of!,” Wade says with a laugh. Based on the uncompleted Jane Austen novel, Wade’s adaptation—which took her 10 years to write—had a sold-out run at the Menier Chocolate Factory, in London, with plans for its transfer to the Harold Pinter Theatre before the city went into quarantine. “I just loved the idea of grappling with something that Austen put away … trying to work out what she might have written.”
Next up, Wade has a commission from the National Theatre, where she’s gunning to be one of the few female playwrights to open in its 1,000-plus-seat theater (as opposed to one of the National’s smaller, secondary ones). However, on the question of sexism in her industry, Wade is cautiously optimistic: “Every few years there has been an article announcing the ‘new female playwrights,’ and it has basically been me and the Lucys [young British playwrights Lucy Prebble and Lucy Kirkwood]. Previously, there had always been a slight tone to those pieces, like ‘I mean, how do they do it with their tiny female brains?’ kind of thing. I don’t feel that now.”
Bridget Arsenault is AIR MAIL’s London Editor