Tag Archives: Jane Austen

Review Persuasion, New Theatre, Cardiff By Barbara Michaels

Adaptation: Barbara Landis, from the novel by Jane Austen

Lyrics: Barbara Landis

Musical Director and Conductor: Linda Madonia

Reviewer: Barbara Michaels

 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

A musical adaptation of a Jane Austen novel –   one might be forgiven for thinking whatever next!  Somewhat surprisingly to this hardened critic, Persuasion the musical version actually does work, although whether it contributes a great deal to the understanding of the mores of the time which is so intrinsic to Austen ‘s work, is questionable.  More D’Oyly Carte than Austen, and, on occasion, tipping over the edge of comedy into farce, for my money Jane Austen it ain’t.   That is not to say it is without merit.

Playwright Barbara Landis, whose adaptation this is of the last complete novel that the illustrious Jane wrote, has striven to keep the magic of Austen’s elegant prose by donning a mob cap and sitting at the side of the stage reading some of the passages from the novel.  This could conceivably have worked, had Landis not chosen to add in such elements as rolling eyes and gestures which detract rather than enhance her performance.

 Add to this that Landis also plays the central character of Anne Elliott, so at regular intervals throughout throws off said mob cap and shawl (various) to join the action centre stage. It is Anne’s on-off romance with Captain Wentworth played by Jeff Diebold, that is at the heart of Austen’s novel.  Much rests on the role of Anne, and Landis does not differentiate sufficiently between the younger and more mature Anne although full credit must go to her for remaining faithful to the original inasmuch as keeping to much of the original dialogue and music appropriate to the era.  BUT, and sadly it is a big but:  in pinpointing the provincial snobbery, class consciousness and ignorance of the era with a heavy sprinkling of comedic touches, the essence of Austen has been lost.

This is a pity, as there is nevertheless much to commend here when viewed in its own right i.e. stand-alone as an independent piece of musical theatre.  The music and choreography make a major contribution,  with music faithful to the era and, in the second half, with spirited Irish dancing by Peter Dzik and Ian Schwartz (query: Irish dancers normally do not move any part of their upper body including their arms) and a couple of ballroom scenes from the pump room in Bath.  As Anne’s father Sir Walter Elliot, John B. Boss gives a suitably over the top performance which shows his relish for the role, while Anne Marie Lewis’s portrayal of hypochondria as Anne’s sister Mary is a classic.  Maggie Clennon Reberg’s Lady Russell, godmother to Anne- a cross between Downton Abbey and a Fairy Godmother – is a joy; a welcome portrayal of what real class, á la Austen, looks like.

Excellent backdrops projected on screen throughout add an authentic touch, with those in the latter half of the Cobb at Lyme Regis and the Pump Room at Bath being particularly good.   Overall, a fun evening albeit somewhat of a hybrid based on the work of one of our greatest literary novelists.

Performance on Saturday, 4th August 2019

Review Pride and Prejudice, WMC by Sophie Wiggins

A tale that is well known throughout society, set in a time when a women’s only place in the world was through marriage and status.
Jane Austen’s heart-warming tale of a women ahead of her time, misunderstood by all who surround her world. The tale tells of Mr and Mrs Bennet and their five daughters who they are trying to marry off for happy and healthy futures. Unlike her sisters, Elizabeth is defiant in being defined by man, only through choice would she say her vows, for love.
Fancy elongated skirts, bonnets and dancing to pianos fill the room, nostalgic of Jane Austen’s world recreated in the theatre.
An elaborate staircase on a turntable that turns into a balcony on the other side, and elegant and effortless scene changer. From ballroom interior, to a balcony exterior over looking the forest and garden grounds or whatever else is desired.
Mr Darcy, played by Benjamin Dilloway is ominous, brooding and ambiguous, he gives Colin Firth a run for his money. The chemistry between Mr Dacry and Elizabeth Bennet ,played by Tafline Steen is intense and enchanting to watch as it unfolds on stage.
Although the themes are a bit too obvious at times the production is full of one liners that make the story accessible to more audiences by adding modern elements to depict the tale. Such as “Your mother will never see you again if you do not marry Mr Collins, and I will never see you again if you do.” Spoken by Matthew Kelly who plays the protective Mr Bennet.
Frequent comedy breaks down the wall of alienation and makes the audience feel at ease throughout.
Although this performance is far away from Jane Austin’s subtle irony that she is known for the performance brings out the themes and prestige in a modernised and elegant style. Making the formal play informal enough to captivate even the most difficult audiences.