A PLAY featuring “a new kind of heroine for the 21st century” is having its first run at an Edinburgh theatre.

The Panopticon is an adaptation of Scots writer Jenni Fagan’s best-selling book about Anais Hendricks, a defiant, pin-sharp 15-year-old taken to an institution for looked-after young people.

Named as one of Waterstones’ best debut novels published in 2012, the gritty book has since been published in nine languages.

Anna Russell Martin stars as Anais in the National Theatre of Scotland (NTS) production, which is directed by acclaimed young director Debbie Hannan and adapted by Fagan herself.

Not yet an adult, not a child, Anais has been in the care system all her life. A witty, self-taught outlaw with a distrust of authority and a liking for blood-red lipstick, under her tough-girl exterior is a vivid inner life and a compassionate moral code.

“We don’t see these types of girls on stage and we really should,” Russell Martin said recently, describing Anais as a “dream part to play”.

Like Stella, the caravan-dwelling teenager in Fagan’s 2016 book The Sunlight Pilgrims, Anais is so convincingly-drawn you immediately care for her. Her world may be ugly, but her voice is so authentic, her character so resilient – joyful, even – that it’s one you don’t want to leave.

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“In the novel, you’re in her head so much of the time,” says Fagan. “We get to experience Anais in a way the police don’t see, the people at the Panopticon don’t see, her peers don’t see either. We develop this intimate relationship with her and begin to understand the huge paradox between how she actually is and how she has to behave.”

“I wanted the audience in the theatre to have that same privilege, that they would experience her inner world in a way that everybody else on the stage doesn’t.”

Anais’s imaginative world is brought to life by a creative team including video designer Lewis Den Hertog and animator Cat Bruce while EmmaClaire Brightlyn and Skye Reynolds give movement direction to the nine-strong cast.

Fagan says NTS’s artistic director Jackie Wylie had initially asked to meet to discuss a production of her forthcoming novel The Luckenbooth, due for publication in summer 2020.

The National:

Next year will also see the release of a film of The Panopticon – Ken Loach’s Sixteen Films optioned it back in 2013, when Fagan was the only Scottish writer to feature in Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists of the year. Again, the screenplay is by Fagan.

“I won’t give people my work until it’s completely perfect, so instead of the new book we talked about things we could work on and Jackie said she thought The Panopticon would be amazing,” says Fagan. “We had to have conversations about what that would mean, what that would mean for me. Each person who has approached me for an adaptation felt it was really important to get me to do it.

“I agree, on this text in particular.”

Born in 1977, Fagan spent her first 16 years in the care system. From the age of seven, she wrote every day, and devoured the contents of the library van which came every week to the caravan park in Midlothian where she lived until she was 12.

Like Anais, Fagan knows the system well but refused to be defined by it, channeling her irrepressible creativity into performance poetry and grunge bands in her teens and 20s.

How the past informs the present is a theme she is currently exploring during her year-long residency at Edinburgh’s Summerhall following her selection as 2019 Dr Gavin Wallace Fellow.

Almost 10 ears after she wrote The Panopticon, Fagan says she can still be affected by the material, as do the production’s cast and crew.

The writer was involved in developing the play from the outset, advising the team on aspects of the care system, the specific Midlothian patter used by Anais and her peers, even clothes and hairstyles.

Before rehearsals began she spent time separately with Hannan and Russell Martin, who had worked previously on productions together at the Royal Conservatoire.

And for a week, the entire cast could ask Fagan anything they wanted.

“My job was to get the NTS the absolutely best script they could have and to authenticate the reality of the world they’re representing,” says Fagan. “Because for me this is my real life, it’s never just art.”

Like Hannan, Fagan relishes the immediacy and rawness of the stage.

“I’m thrilled that the very first world premiere of The Panopticon will be in theatre,” she says. “It’s more real, more challenging.

I wanted it to have that same underground energy it had when I first wrote it.”

Until October 19 (not Oct 13, 14) Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, 7.30pm, Oct 19 mat 2.30pm, £5 to £20. Tel: 0131 228 1404.

www.traverse.co.uk www.nationaltheatrescotland.com www.jennifagan.com