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The Dictionary of Lost Words

Presented by

State Theatre Company, South Australia

Event details


  • 3 October 2023, 18:30
    • Audio Description
    • Companion Card Affiliate
  • 4 October 2023, 11:00
    • Companion Card Affiliate
    • Closed Captioning
  • 4 October 2023, 18:30
    • Companion Card Affiliate
    • Closed Captioning
  • 7 October 2023, 14:00
    • Audio Description
    • Companion Card Affiliate


Dunstan Playhouse


3 hours



Event description

In 1901, the word bondmaid was discovered to be missing from the Oxford English Dictionary. The Dictionary of Lost Words is the story of the girl who stole it.

South Australian novelist Pip Williams’ internationally bestselling book, comes to vivid life in this world premiere stage adaptation by South Australian playwright, Verity Laughton.

A best-selling multi-award winner (including the People’s Choice Award at the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards) and chosen for the Reese Witherspoon Book Club, the book has been lauded as an “absorbing, quietly revolutionary novel”, “deeply, intrinsically kind (and) a profoundly comforting place to dwell” (The Age) and “a captivating and slyly subversive fictional paean to the real women whose work on the Oxford English Dictionary went largely unheralded.” (New York Times).

Motherless and ever curious, Esme spends her childhood in the Scriptorium – the “Scrippy”, a converted garden shed in Oxford where her father and a team of lexicographers guided by Dr James Murray are gathering words for the very first Oxford English Dictionary. She hides beneath the sorting table and catches a word on a “slip” as it falls and soon, she finds other words that have been neglected by the men. Here begins Esme’s collection of her own: the Dictionary of Lost Words.

As the years pass, Esme realises that little importance is placed on recording the words and meanings relating to women’s experiences and as her world expands and her circle of friends grows – actresses, suffragettes, market traders, workers, she realises the power in their silenced voices and decides to lend them hers. And on the way, she comes to understand the many meanings of the word “love”.

“Full of heart and tenderness, heartbreak and joy, love and loss.” The Herald Sun

What a coup for this Company! A hugely popular South Australian novel bursts onto our stage. Verity’s adaptation gets to the rich core of the book while making the story a thing what will sing in the theatre. How equally thrilling to have Jessica Arthur, fresh from her success with Chalkface, return to us to direct this beloved, epic, romantic tale that celebrates language and its power. Sure to be a landmark production. Mitchell

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Audio Description 

The Dictionary of Lost Words Pre-show notes