In a world where a 27 year old unmarried woman is cause for concern, Anne Elliott (Rose McPhilemy) has no romantic prospects on the horizon. Eight years earlier Anne was persuaded to break off an engagement to Frederick Wentworth (Philip Honeywell), a naval officer without money or rank. After eight years he returns and the pair, who obviously still have feelings for each other, allow their pride and vanity to drive them apart.
As any Austen enthusiast will be able to tell you that her novels are often portrayed as insights into the minds of her protagonist. In this adaptation of Persuasion instead of rejecting this feature and just speaking the lines of the various characters, the story is told as if the book is being read out loud so you still know what the characters are thinking.
If you’re preparing for an exam based on this book but you haven’t quite had the time to get through it, then this play would be perfect. The characters are brought to life from the page and they do not deviate from the story. It’s a perfect revision session.
However, if you are not familiar with the story, the small cast play so many characters each that it can be confusing, especially as there are no costume changes, to follow the plot and decipher one character from the next. The easiest differentiation is between Anne’s sisters (Beatrice Rose) as the simple prop of a handkerchief is used to show the audience which sister is being portrayed. A feature that would have been helpful with all the other characters too.
The characters seem to either be very subdued or quite hysterical without any middle ground and for those familiar with other Austen novels there never seems to be much difference between each leading lady. It’s a bit difficult to concentrate on the cast when they switch characters so often. In fact, it is a lot of credit to their skills that I was able to follow the story at all when sometimes I wasn’t even sure which character was speaking.
The show ends with a delightful although rather unexpected dance routine that gets faster and faster. The rest of the show is quite serious and slow paced and so this surprising choreography is a great send off for the audience at the end.
As an English Literature student I learnt that Jane Austen is a rather acquired taste as her stories can be rather slow paced and the characters’ stubbornness is quite frustrating. The same is true of this performance, Austen fans will absolutely love this re-telling of Persuasion but those who struggle to make their way through the book may just disagree.
Persuasion plays The Rosemary Branch Theatre until 22nd May 2016. For more information and tickets, see The Rosemary Branch Theatre.