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Posts Tagged ‘Jane Austen’

Isobel McArthur has adapted Jane Austen’s novel and created an irreverent though reasonably faithful stage play which is frankly bonkers. Judging by the size and reaction of Sunday evening’s audience, it may join other off-the-wall Criterion long runners like The Third Man and The Comedy About A Bank Robbery.

Five maids busy themselves in the house on stage (excellent bookish design by Ana Ines Jabares-Pita) before they put on a frock (female) or a coat (male), and occasionally headwear (both), to become characters in Austen’s story of unmarried sisters in search of husbands. They switch from maids to characters regularly, and occasionally pick up a microphone and sing karaoke style to the backing track of a contemporary song. The costumes may be period, but the words aren’t, illustrated by the occasional profanity. These five actresses – Tori Burgess, Christina Gordon, Hannah Jarrett-Scott, Megan Tyler and the writer / co-director – play everyone except Mr Bennet, their silent imaginary dad, in an armchair with his back to us reading his paper.

It took me a short while to get into it, but when you do its a hoot. You’re really laughing with, rather than at, Austen, with a respect for the inspiration clearly evident. You can tell the five have been performing the show for some time, milking every line and every situation with expert comic timing and terrific audience engagement. It’s impossible not to get caught up in this charming, cheeky piece, which feels much like the breath of fresh air Mischief Theatre brought to the West End with The Play That Goes Wrong seven years ago.

It’s great to see eight of our best regional theatres working together to stage this for their audiences first, before transfer to London, and great to see producer David Pugh picking it up and hopefully giving this very talented company a national, even international, profile, and a decent, healthy run. The cheers and the standing ovation spoke for themselves.

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This is based on one of two unfinished works by Jane Austen. Coincidentally, the TV adaptation of the other, Sanditon, is currently on our screens. There have been other attempts to complete The Watsons, though not as a play it seems. Laura Wade takes this as her starting point, but it goes way beyond that in a brilliant Pirandellian concoction.

As soon as you walk into the Menier the stage and the two actors on it scream Austen. Dad is in his sick bed, with his daughter Elizabeth looking on. We soon meet her sister, eighteen-year-old Emma, who has been living with her aunt since she was five, other sister Margaret and brother Robert and his wife. They are all rather preoccupied with getting the sisters married.

We move to a society ball where Lord Osborne takes a fancy to Emma, she takes a fancy to Mr Howard the clergyman and local gentleman Tom Musgrave takes a fancy to any woman in sight. Despite hardly engaging with her at the ball, Osborne visits Emma at home and surprises everyone by proposing. When he leaves, she discusses her intentions, at which point she is interrupted by a maid questioning her choice.

We soon realise this is Laura the writer who has had to intervene as her character appears to have taken over her story. From here, it’s meta theatre all the way as the characters mutiny and we discuss Austen’s intentions, enact the characters wishes and explore the process of writing in an anarchic, hilarious romp. Laura even takes a call from her producer David, who asks how the writing is going! It’s hugely entertaining, but you do delve into the mind of Austen, her period and the reasons why she may have abandoned the piece.

Sam West has staged it expertly and Ben Stones has created an authentic period design. It’s a big cast for a play and they seem to be having a ball. Grace Molony is lovely as Emma and Louise Ford delightful as Laura the writer. In a uniformly excellent supporting ensemble, Joe Bannister is superb as the timid Osborne, Jane Booker superb as his officious mother, Sophie Duval a treat as bossy Mrs Robert and there’s a very assured performance from Isaac Forward as the ten-year-old Charles.

A real fun evening. Don’t miss.

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