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Play of the Week Podcast: Ethan Frome

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Paul Murphy Paul Murphy 20:00, Friday, 20 January 2012

Ed's note: There's a new Play of the Week podcast every Friday to download and play at your leisure. This week it's Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome. On the Radio 4 blog the play's producer Sally Avens discusses the adaptation and The Jinx Element, Stephen Wakelam's play (on this Saturday) telling the story of Edith's affair with the journalist Morton Fullerton - PM.

Portrait Of Edith Wharton

Portrait Of Edith Wharton

Drama producer Sally Avens writes:

I chose to adapt Ethan Frome because I was completely in love with the novella. It always struck me as different to Edith Wharton's other works and had this wonderful, slightly ghostly Tales Of The Unexpected sensibility to it. As Wharton's other books generally focused on American high society, Ethan Frome stands out as this devastating window on the poor in rural Massachusetts and is by far one of her most affecting stories.

Whilst Ethan Frome is not nearly as well known as The Age of Innocence or The House of Mirth, it grips you with the intensity of the writing and the mystery behind what has caused Ethan to be such a broken man both physically and emotionally, and dramatising it meant a chance to bring it to a wider audience.

2012 is also the 150th anniversary of Edith Wharton's birth so there seemed to be no better time to adapt Ethan Frome, and as it mirrored many themes in Edith's own life, to pair it with a play about her own difficult marriage and a passionate affair on which she embarked with a younger man.

Stephen Wakelam's play is a powerful look at the woman behind the literary figure as seen through the eyes of her friend, Henry James and is broadcast on the Saturday following this week's Woman's Hour serialisation of Ethan Frome, which has been dramatised by Lin Coghlan, who has brought a brilliant sensibility to the task.

You will notice that the brilliant Fenella Woolgar voices Edith Wharton in both Ethan Frome and The Jinx Element. In the original novella the narrator is a man who is visiting the town where the story is set, not Wharton at all, but knowing that we would be creating a Wharton theme strand for the week on Radio 4 with a tie-in biographical play, I felt it might be truly effective to have Wharton feature as narrator in the Ethan Frome adaptation as well as the lead character in The Jinx Element; this would give us a familiar voice connecting the serial to the Saturday Play, and hopefully that lovely intriguing and thematic feel we had been aiming for.

I hope you've enjoyed the programmes and do please download the podcast before next Friday if you missed any episodes or simply want to hear them again at your leisure. Make sure not to miss The Jinx Element this Saturday too.

Sally Avens is the producer of Ethan Frome and The Jinx Element

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