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Jane Austen’s Persuasion at the Playground Theatre | Review

Lucinda Turner (c) Robin Savage
Lucinda Turner (c) Robin Savage

With an increasingly solid reputation for good work and solid material selections, Theatre6 continue this trend with their new adaptation of Jane Austen’s final novel Persuasion. Celebrating 200 years since its publication, Stephanie Dale has done a great job of adapting the text, condensing a story spanning close to a year to a manageable, albeit slightly long, evening’s performance. Her focus on Anne’s voice, in keeping with the strength of Austen’s famous female protagonists, provides a strong through-line to which the production returns in between the multitude of settings featured.

Entering the space, you are met with Charlotte Cooke’s delicate design. The pillars elegantly evoke the Roman architecture of Bath, whilst providing the players with a sufficiently flexible space to navigate and transform into the large array of locations the characters visit over the course of the play. The sound design, too, is powerful without being too imposing and, when combined with Escudero’s original compositions is particularly poignant.

Theatre6 and Kate McGregor have gathered a skilled ensemble cast, all of whom play at least one of the assortment of instruments decorating the set. The musical accompaniment, at various points throughout, helps illustrate the passage of time effectively and guides the audience into the protagonist’s innermost thoughts.

Ceri-Lyn Cissone, as Anne, tackles the trickiest role in the show, as both narrator and sole constant character, with clear intelligence and consideration. She shines most when speaking directly to the audience; eloquent, thoughtful, every bit the conflicted ingenue. Matthew Atkins fills the plays more senior male roles with charm and wit, handling his multiple roles with confidence and control. Of particular note is the delightful cattiness of Sir Walter, whose sneering snobbery kick starts the play in good fashion.

As Mrs Clay, Lady Russell and the ever-ailing Mary, Lucinda Turner is a comedic treat, charging each scene she’s in with energy and a comic fizzle that I’ve often found can be neglected in period pieces. Jason Ryall, as Frederick Wentworth and Mr Elliot, succeeds in counter-playing the romantic lead and, arguably, the primary antagonist and balances the charms of both men wonderfully. It is an interesting casting choice to have one actor play both characters pursuing Anne’s affections and the strength of the adaptation keeps one guessing for a short while who might actually be the successful suitor.

Indigo Griffiths demonstrates good range in her three roles, her youthful energy as Louisa particularly infectious. Siobhan Gerrard runs the whole gamut of age and class with her numerous roles with aplomb, imbuing each with warmth. Her brief turn as Lady Dalrymple had the audience tittering and provides one of the comic highlights of the evening.

Kate McGregor’s direction is full of life, with quick changes aplenty and no opportunity for world building spared. The transitions are slick, the passage of time clear and the show, though perhaps a little long, never feels like it’s dragging its heels.

A moment in the second act, in which the fourth wall is broken by all but Anne Elliot, gives a real sense of completion and wholeness to the concept, making clear that these characters, as part of Anne’s narration, are coloured by her perception of them and, as such, one is immediately able to forgive any sense of shallowness in characterisation previously felt. This moment is a fantastic decision on the part of Dale and McGregor and really brings the whole piece together.

In summary, this is a very strong adaptation of the final work of such a prolific writer. Featuring some wonderfully gifted actor-musicians, a solid script, and well-planned and paced direction, Persuasion does not disappoint.

4 stars

Review by Ben Powell

Persuasion was Jane Austen’s final novel, and Theatre6’s production is a world premiere featuring original music by Maria Haïk Escudero to be played live by a company of actor-musicians. Persuasion is the story of Anne Elliott; a shy woman from the south coast of England who was young and in love. Enamoured by the dashing but poor naval officer, Captain Wentworth, her ambitious family tore them apart. 8 years later and Wentworth has returned. Will a chance encounter lead Anne towards the true love she has yearned for or a life forever alone? Filled with live music, drama, laughter and romance from a cast of actor-musicians, Theatre6’s Persuasion is not to be missed.

17 April – 28 April 2018
PLAYGROUND THEATRE
www.theplaygroundtheatre.london

Twitter: @Theatre_6 & @PersuasionTP
Facebook: facebook.com/PersuasionThePlay
www.theatre6.co.uk

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