Reading & Watching Fingersmith


“My name, in those days, was Susan Trinder. People called me Sue. I know the year I was born in, but for many years I did not know the date, and took my birthday at Christmas. I believe I am an orphan. My mother I know is dead. But I never saw her, she was nothing to me. I was Mrs Sucksby’s child, if I was anyone’s; and for father I had Mr Ibbs, who kept the locksmith’s shop, at Lant Street, in the Borough, near to the Thames.”
Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

So begins the novel by Sarah Waters that follows Sue Trinder, Maud Lilly and a cast of characters that comes to life in a stage adaptation presented by the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Before I get too far into writing about the book and play, I want to let you know that this post does not contain spoilers. The beauty of this story lies in the twists and turns, and I do not want to give anything away to readers who have not experienced it yet.

I first came across Fingersmith almost 10 years ago when I saw the BBC adaptation of the book. I had not heard of Sarah Waters prior to watching the miniseries and was happy to find out the TV version was based on a book. I was enthralled with the story and gasped out loud in my living room at the plot twists. I later picked up some of Waters’s other novels and was equally impressed with her stories in written form.

Fingersmith is the kind of book that you start and then look up from only to realize that it is 3:30 in the morning. You have to keep reading even though your alarm is set to go off in just a few hours. Waters paints a vivid picture of Victorian life, first in a den of thieves in London and then in the English countryside. While she is telling a historically rich Victorian story, the pacing is such that a 21st-century reader will feel right at home.

I saw my first Oregon Shakespeare Festival production when I watched them perform A Wrinkle in Time last fall. When I saw Fingersmith on the schedule, I started planning my trip to Ashland right away. Alexa Junge adapted Waters’s novel for the world premiere of the stage version, and Bill Rauch directed the production. Sue Trinder is brought to life by Sara Bruner, and Erica Sullivan plays Maud Lilly. From the moment Bruner uttered the opening lines that also begin the novel, I was on the edge of my seat. Even though I was familiar with the story from the miniseries and the novel, I was still so swept up in the story that the 3+ hour run time sped by as though it were only minutes.

The house was packed the night I saw Fingersmith, and it reminded me of the magic of live theatre. The audience gasped at the plot twists. It was impossible not to get caught up in the emotion of the story. I saw the play with a friend who had not read the book or seen the miniseries. I told him very little about the show other than, “I can’t wait until you see this play because I need to discuss the story with someone.” He was a bit skeptical when he saw the long runtime of the show and heard it was set in the 19th century; however, he was elbowing me and giving me wide-eyed looks of amazement at every wild turn in the story. After the show, he called it one of the best plays he has ever seen.

Having seen the miniseries and recently having read the book, I watched this play with the full story in mind. It is funny how knowing the outcome helps you see a story in a different way. Each time I experience Fingersmith in its different formats, I come away with something new. I can honestly say that this is one of the best book adaptations I have seen.

I would love to talk about the story here, but, as I said, I want to keep this post spoiler free. What I can say is that this is the kind of story that sticks with you. I still find myself imagining futures for some of the characters beyond the pages of the book. I still feel for these people even though I have moved on to other books and shows. This is the kind of story that begs to be reread or rewatched, so adapting this novel to the stage seems like a natural flow in its evolution. Whether it is the original novel, miniseries or play, drop everything and find a way to immerse yourself in the world of Fingersmith.

Work Cited:
Waters, Sarah. Fingersmith. New York: Riverhead Books, 2002. Print.


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