Pros: Edmund’s sudden bursts of affection towards Fanny, and the 1800s ball scenes.
Cons: The production was too lengthy; a quicker unraveling would have been perfect without making the play drag on at times.
A new production of Mansfield Park is touring England, and Everything Theatre was able to stop by at the Rose TheatreKingston to take a look at this Jane Austen classic, adapted by Tim Luscombe with direction by Colin Blumenau.
The play follows the story of Fanny (Ffion Jolly), a little girl of ten from a poor family. She is sent to live at Mansfield Park, with her wealthy uncle Sir Thomas (Richard Heap) and three cousins: Tom (Geoff Arnold), Edmund (Pete Ashmore) and Maria (Leonie Spilsbury). Fanny is treated with disdain and even cruelty from the minute she arrives at the estate, with only Edmund showing her any kindness. As the years go by she grows up to be a quiet, pretty and insecure young woman, and only Edmund remains constant in his affections towards her. Inevitably (as is often the case with Austen) they both start developing secret romantic feelings for each other. The love triangle is completed with the arrival at Mansfield Park of Henry and Mary Crawford. Edmund becomes infatuated with Mary and eventually, so does Henry with Fanny. Around them a myriad of subplots between the cast seal the action.
The scenes take place around a single setting decorated with a timber canopy, with some seats arranged in front. The stage of the Rose theatre is quite spacious, and this gives free movement to the cast to place the characters in different surroundings without having to worry about prop and set changes. The costumes match the classical surroundings, with colors mirroring the character’s personalities; Fanny in pastels always in the background, Mary with vibrant oranges.
The thing I liked about the play was the transparency of the plot; five minutes in and the distinctive bond between Edmund and Fanny is established. Even if the audience were not familiar with the story, they would pick up the main storyline effortlessly. The only acts of affection towards Fanny (who is introduced as the main protagonist) come from Edmund: this draws attention to their relationship throughout the performance, and you inevitably become more interested in seeing how things unravel between them. Although I enjoyed this transparency, I imagine it could be a good or bad thing depending on your taste, and how you like to be entertained in theatre.
My main gripe with the production would have to be that some scenes tended to drag on a bit. The production was too lengthy, and a quicker resolution would have helped the audience to digest this otherwise enjoyable show.
In terms of performance, Pete Ashton as Edmund and Laura Doddington playing Mary are the highlights. In the midst of the Austenesque setting of snobbery, games and manipulations, I found that Edmund’s sudden bursts of protectiveness towards Fanny really stood out too. Fanny is quiet, reserved and barely visible among the rest of the pretentious roles, and one starts to wonder what it is that’s so special about her – it is through Edmund’s words and actions that she comes to life and becomes the heroine of the story. Really fantastic to watch. Doddington’s performance on the other hand is plain fun: comes on stage and delivers an impulsive and childish portrayal of Mary, creating an avalanche of comical situations.
Mansfield Park delivers a soothing theatrical experience, perfect if looking for a relaxing evening. Watching this play feels like having a hot bath on a rainy day, and with plenty of those ahead I recommend keeping this production in mind.
Author: Jane Austen
Adapted by: Tim Luscombe
Director: Colin Blumenau
More Information: www.theatreroyal.org