Pros: A faithful adaptation of Jane Austen’s work with some good performances.
Cons: The third person narrative created a sense of detachment, preventing any emotional connection between the audience and the characters on stage.
Being a massive fan of Jane Austen’s work I was excited to see Persuasion on stage but was slightly disappointed in how it turned out. I was familiar with the plot line but had never actually read the book, and as it turns out that was a mistake when going to see the novel played out on stage. This production did little to introduce me gradually to the plot or its characters, making for a very confusing first half. However, it did have moments that made me smile, particularly towards the end.
Anne Elliot is the main character, alongside her romantic interest Frederick Wentworth. This story tells us that years ago, Anne was persuaded to brake off their engagement due to the officer in question being without wealth or rank. Eight years later we are spectators to their reunion, and their feelings towards one another after the long period apart.
Taking place in a number of different settings, and pursuing several other characters, this was a fast-paced rendition of the novel. Rose McPhilemy, who played Anne, portrayed her well, staying consistent throughout alongside Philip Honeywell, whose acting was admirable. A strong performance was brought by Beatrice Rose who played Elizabeth, Mary, Henriette and Mrs Smith; she drew the most laughs from the audience with her natural comedic flair. All acted well but most, except for Rosie and Philip, had to play a number of different characters which turned out to be the most confusing aspect of the play. The lack of wardrobe changes or noticeable props to aid their performances made it difficult to tell whether they did in fact, change roles. Being a complex novel, with a large cast of characters, the story is difficult enough to capture in a short space of time and sadly, I’m not sure if such a small cast sufficed to make this work.
The narrative voice was mostly in the third person, especially during the first part where it almost felt like the characters were reading the book to the audience. This formed an emotional detachment from the cast, making it hard to really invest in the story, and care when the play ended, despite its greatly surprising ending. Being a story of love, longing and regret, it should have been a play filled with emotion but there was anything but, even in its more romantic moments.
A blank cream-coloured set and white clothing constituted the main setup. Overall no props were used, and at times the characters even made use of the imagination of the audience to talk about non-existent children. In the end, it was quite hard to imagine the settings of the production: the village Uppercross, Lyme Regis, or Bath.
A fast paced show is something that I usually see as fun, but this proved to be a bit too fast, especially as I did not know the book inside out. Confusing moments in the plotline along with the distancing narrative voice make it hard for me as an audience member to care about what was going on, which lessened the overall impact. Despite the good performances and music choices, I can’t be persuaded that Jane Austen’s Persuasion belongs anywhere other than in the novel format that brought it to fame.
Original Author: Jane Austen
Adapted By: Bryony J. Thompson
Director: Bryony J. Thompson
Producer: Rosemary Branch Theatre
Booking Until: 22 May 2016
Box Office: 020 7704 6665
Booking Link: http://www.rosemarybranch.com/index.php/programme/86-pursuasion