Lady Anna: All At Sea is a new play from Craig Baxter, inspired by the work of celebrated Victorian novelist Anthony Trollope. The play was commissioned by the Trollope Society as part of the Trollope Bicentennial Celebrations.
Lady Anna was born without a fortune, her and her mother depended on the kindness of a local tailor and his son to make it through. Fortune favours them and Lady Anna rises to riches, she now faces a choice between a socially beneficial marriage to her cousin, an Earl, or to her childhood sweetheart, the tailor’s son. Each man makes an alluring offer – the Earl could bring an enviable social standing, whereas as her childhood sweetheart offers her love and affection. The remaining characters manipulate the situation at the bequest of their own selfish intentions, willing Lady Anna to make a choice suitable for their own personal gain, perhaps worst behaved is her mother.
Countess Lovel becomes one of the more intriguing characters, a bizarre blend of smothering Baby Jane vindictiveness, blended with a sturdy Victorian moral code. Her performance manages to hit all colours on the spectrum. In keeping with this, the set design is playful and suggests that the production does not want to take itself too seriously, with pastel coloured books adorning the stage and a grand piece fabric resembling partridge paper hanging from the back wall.
Essentially, the play deals with class and morality. In conjunction with the central narrative, we also bear witness to Mr Trollope (or Troll-ope as his American companion insists), aboard a vessel to Australia as he writes his new masterpiece, Lady Anna. The two tales entwine and we receive both stories vividly, often dissecting one another.
The play requires the cast to adopt a slew of different characters, many playing up to three distinct roles, switching between their characters within a turn on stage. Though the actors are superb, there’s no way to escape the messiness of this, whether down to the writing or directing it’s unclear, but more could have been done to provide a sense of clarity. In certain moments, it seems that some of the actors rely on physical mannerisms to portray the identity of their character to the audience because the narrative lacks clarity.
Though the noble intentions of the play are perceivable, mostly what the audience may take from the piece is a frivolous melodrama that frequently resulted in the presented action being at odds with the audience’s reaction. Points of dramatic tension were met with uncomfortable giggles from an audience who were unsure whether Lady Anna was reaching for satire. I still remain unsure whether the play was earnest or jesting in its intended delivery.
Lady Anna: All At Sea is playing Park Theatre until 19 September. For tickets and further information, see the Park Theatre website. Image by Park Theatre.