Caro Meets Festivals Interview

Susan Jellis: Emma 200 Brunswick Square

By | Published on Thursday 10 September 2015

If you go down to Brunswick Square this weekend, you may get a big surprise. No, not bears, but perhaps the odd sighting of folk dressed in regency costume. That’s because, starting Thursday, the locale plays host to a festival of Jane Austen related activity marking the bicentenary of the publication of her 1815 novel ‘Emma’.


When I heard about Emma 200, I thought all the events sounded rather good (not least because of a performance by TW favourites Austentatious), so I sent some questions over to Susan Jellis, festival organiser and vice chair of Friends of Brunswick Square.

CM: Can you begin by telling us about the organisation behind this? What exactly is Friends Of Brunswick Square and what do they do?
SJ: The Friends of Brunswick Square is a voluntary group, which cares for the historic environment of Brunswick Square and promotes safe community use of the Gardens. Some of us are involved with plants and planting, some plan events and activities to highlight the square, and some interact with Camden to keep the gardens in the forefront of their attention, especially now council financial cuts are having such a negative impact of the maintenance of London’s squares and gardens.

CM: Why did you decide to stage this festival? What’s the connection with Jane Austen?
SJ: We use every opportunity to raise the profile of the square in the public’s consciousness, as we are looking for more volunteer and financial support for our work. So the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s Emma was a gift, as the novel mentions the then-new Brunswick Square 11 times. Emma’s sister Isabella lives there and declares “Our part of London is so very superior to most others! The neighbourhood of Brunswick Square is so very different from almost all the rest. We are so very airy”.

A festival focusing on the Austen period celebrates both the novel’s 200 years and the recent planting renovations in the square. We hope more people will find out about us – and join us as volunteers or supporters.

CM: Tell us what sort of events we can expect from Emma 200.
SJ: Austentatious, the improvised comedy group, are giving a show; there is An Evening in the Musical World of Jane Austen, a staged reading of Emma with music, a talk on landscapes and gardens in the Austen novels, a talk and display on Regency costume, and Professor John Mullan of UCL talking on Emma and Jane Austen’s London. These are just some of the events.

CM: The guided walks look interesting – can you tell us a bit more about those?
SJ: They start from Coram (the children’s charity that is the successor of the Foundling Hospital in Brunswick Square) and cover Famous Faces of Brunswick Square and Brunswick Square and the Foundling Hospital.

CM: Obviously, there’s lots in the programme for ‘Emma’ fans, but what do you think might be of interest to those who are less acquainted with the work of Jane Austen?
SJ: The talks relate the life and times of Jane’s novels to the rest of Regency society, the walks bring Brunswick Square up to date through its whole 200 year history of the famous people who lived here, the music concert will be in an intimate parlour setting, and of course there’s the Gwyneth Paltrow film on the Sunday afternoon.

CM: Is there anything going on that would appeal to children and families?
SJ: On the Saturday we are holding an Open Garden afternoon for you to stroll in the square and maybe meet some Regency characters. There will be Punch and Judy, a Stiltwalker and a juggler, and the chance to make a garden square in fruit and veg.

CM: Is there anything you yourself are especially looking forward to? What will be the highlight of the festival?
SJ: I’m looking forward to Jane Austen’s music in a parlour setting played on a typical fortepiano, with songs of the period as well. As well as a staged adaptation of the novel ‘Emma’ –a rare chance to see it performed.

CM: Will the organisation be operating any other festivals in the future, do you think?
SJ: Well, the other famous literary character associated with Brunswick Square is Peter Pan – he flew up to Wendy’s window, which J. M. Barrie located in the corner of the square where he himself used to live. We’ll have to see!

Emma 200 takes place in various venues around Brunswick Square, from 10-13 Sep. See the festival website here for more info and tickets. 

LINKS: | |

Photo of Austentatious by Idil Sukan