Alexandra Palace Theatre, reinvigorated and reopened a couple of years ago after decades of neglect, sparkles with contemporary touches that complement the preserved original features of the building. Simple and classy, it’s quite special and nearly worth coming just to experience the venue. The whole area is beautiful as well, so I suggest arriving early to soak up the park now that our evenings are warmer and brighter. Brace yourself for some hills, though…
Old and new come together again tonight in this adaptation (by Jeff James and James Yeatman) of Jane Austen’s posthumously published Persuasion. This era of literature is shamefully quite alien to me because I don’t get on with the verbose way of writing authors had (thank you, dyslexia), so I am grateful for skilful adaptations which make stories like this accessible. James and Yeatman have turned this 200 year-old story into a really funny, joyous and sexy Jane Austen rom-com.
A formidable creative team come together to make this a truly exciting event. A club-vibe runs throughout, including a slip’n’slide foam party; and it doesn’t jar with the 19th century story, but rather enhances it. Jeff James (Director), Alex Lowde (Set and Costume Designer), Lucy Carter (Lighting Designer), Ben and Max Ringham (Music & Sound Design) and Morgann Runacre-Temple (Movement) are absolutely on the same page for this one, and it is explosive. Instead of harpsichord and piano we have Lizzo and Cardi B. Instead of candlelight we have club lighting, and there’s dancefloor instead of promenade. Runacre-Temple’s movement direction is genius, from the riotous out-out dancing to more subtle movement that keeps some characters in a kind of dancing stasis, while others continue the narrative around them.
The story hinges around Ann Elliot and Frederick Wentworth, played by Sasha Frost and Fred Fergus, who loved then lost each other, and haven’t spoken for several years when they meet once again. Their ‘will-they-won’t-they’ tale runs concurrently with some others in their family, and I found the story somewhat out of touch with 21st century ideals. I’m kind of over the stories of rich families mismanaging their money then becoming dreadfully middle-class, and of select young ladies who seem obsessed with nothing except love and marriage – although Ann is our antidote to this in Persuasion. I blame this on my strong dislike of Bridgerton (I know…) and having to live through the mania it caused, but you can’t deny there’s a bit of digging to do before these stories become relatable. The way this production presents the story makes it really fresh, keeping it feeling relevant and exciting.
The dynamic and charismatic cast in its entirety deserves a lot of praise, particularly Frost who I don’t think left our sight once throughout. The two comedic duos performed by Matilda Bailes and Caroline Moroney were so skilfully done I didn’t realise there weren’t four actors until well into the second half. Meanwhile, Dorian Simpson takes the prize for most fabulous cameo.
This is an exciting and funny adaptation of what could easily be a dry and frigid tale. It goes to show that there’s an era of stories that, although starting to lose their touch with the reality of the 21st century, do still have life left in them.
Written by: Jane Austen
Adapted by: Jeff James and James Yeatman
Produced by: Ian Melding for Alexandra Palace Theatre
Directed by: Jeff James
Set and costume by: Alex Lowde
Lighting design by: Lucy Carter
Music and sound design by: Ben & Max Ringha
Movement by: Morgann Runacre-Temple
Persuasion plays at Alexandra Palace Theatre until 30 April. Further information and bookings can be found here.