SUSANNAH Tresilian agreed to direct Jane Austen's Pride And Prejudice for York Theatre Royal and the Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company on one condition.

The new adaptation of "the most famous love story our country has ever produced" would have to be written by a comedian, she said. Step forward stand-up Sara Pascoe for her debut full-length play, one that will be accompanied by music by singer-songwriter Emmy The Great and a design by Carla Goodman as the Theatre Royal's year of woman-centric productions continues apace.

"When Susannah was approached by Nottingham Playhouse, she looked at various adaptations and thought they were all very dry," says Sara. "She talked about how she thought of Pride And Prejudice and said, 'how about a comedian adapting it?'."

Sara and Susannah had worked together previously on "something very small in London", a project involving writers penning ten-minute plays without gender that directors would then interpret, cast and present.

Pride And Prejudice was to be a challenge on an altogether grander scale: a chance to create a "playful, truthful and occasionally disrespectful take" on Austen's novel in a new comic adaptation that is now running in Nottingham ahead of its transfer to York from October 4 to 14.

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Matt Whitchurch as Mr Darcy. Picture: Stephen Cummiskey

Tresilian's desire was to take a fresh look yet stay loyal to the original, creating an "authentic Pride And Prejudice for a modern audience, combining, one might say, a 21st century sense with a 19th century sensibility".

This, after all, is a story where the women don’t work, the servants don’t speak and who cares how filthy rich Mr Darcy is, when he is so arrogant and rude, in a Georgian England in which men had property, women had smelling salts and piano lessons...and Elizabeth Bennet had her wit, her cleverness, her terrible manners and her dirty shoes, but no independence. Is her ending actually happy, Tresilian's production asks.

Adapting Austen's novel was "one of those things I'd never thought of", but Sara immediately warmed to her task, first underlining everything in the book that she thought should be in the play too, all the while demonstrating Austen's courage and wit to a new generation of theatre-goers. "For me, it's not 'how are Elizabeth and Mr Darcy going to get together?', but 'how are they going to say it?', and 'how am I going to make this joke that works on the page work on stage?'."

Sara's editing process revealed "a surprising amount of action" in Austen's novel. "You realise why there are TV adaptations that run to five or six episodes, but equally when there's a letter that runs to five pages in the book, you just cut it out!" she says.

"I hate long plays; I think it's an indulgence of the book, but if a play rushes by and you're enthralled, you ask yourself, 'does it need to be longer than two hours?'. That's why anything that is surplus has been cut at rehearsals."

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Alice Haigh, left, as Kitty, Bethan Mary-James as Elizabeth and Olivia Onyehara as Lydia in Pride And Prejudice. Picture: Stephen Cummiskey

In her stand-up career, Sara calls all the shots, deciding what stays in, what goes, from her set, but the playwright's role is a different one, involving loss of control of her script's destiny. "I know it's going to be painful letting go, with all these other people then delivering it, and what I have to do is learn from the experience," she said before the production opened.

"With my comedy, I'm very much a lone wolf when I'm writing and performing my shows, but only because I don't agree with other people. Even when other comedians suggest something to me, my heckles rise."

Sara prefers to trust her "inner critic". "Though when I started writing Pride And Prejudice, I found the process very slow, thinking, 'what will they think of this?'; 'am I taking a liberty here?', but then I thought, 'I need to take control of this', creating a show that someone who was made to read the book at school and found it boring now sees the play and wants to read the book again."

Sara's adaptation does not make the story modern but nevertheless resonates with women's roles today. "It's a story that's not romantic," she says. "Elizabeth Bennet has been too nice in other adaptations when in fact she's savage and is not obeying the rules. So I wanted to go back to the rawness of the book, where Mr Darcy's first reaction on seeing her is only because she is so awful!".

Has being female had an impact of how Sara has written her adaptation? "Obviously I'm a woman, but the first thing they wanted, whether it was a woman, or a male writer receiving the same instruction, was to 'make us a funny play'," she says.

As it happens, the cast of ten includes six women, but "interpreting the story through a feminine perspective was not the first prerogative", says Sara. "No, that was to be funny!"

York Theatre Royal and Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company present Pride And Prejudice, York Theatre Royal, October 4 to October 14; performances at 7.30pm, October 4 to 7 and 10 to 14; 2pm, October 5 and 12; 2.30pm, October 7 and 14. Box office: 01904 623568 or at