Sunday, 25 June 2017

Half agony, half hope

Foam party
Attending a production of Jane Austen’s Persuasion at Manchester’s Royal Exchange I didn’t anticipate foam falling from the gantry, Louisa Musgrave in a bikini and Captain Wentworth in swimming shorts and the pair of them doing body slides through the foam. And who’s this strutting in speedos? None other than Mr William Walter Elliot. This was the scene at Lyme Regis. Anne Elliot, naturally, kept her top clothes on. To be fair to the director/designer, the original text refers to swimming so there is purist justification. But what the production did, I think, was capture the spirit of the scene by the seaside – unbridled joy ending in the famous fall from The Cobb by the impetuous Louisa.
Much needed injection of Austen
It was after being moved at the floral/balloon tribute to the Manchester arena victims in St Ann’s Square (blog here) that we had a meal at one of my favourite places, the Royal Exchange, and attended press night for this visually updated but linguistically intact adaptation of Jane Austen’s final novel, the title of which was provided by her loving brother, Henry. The adaptation by James Yeatman and all the performances captured the novel intelligently and exuberantly in my opinion. The satire of romantic attitudes was present, the economic brutality of the position for women was in-built into the plot, the feminist anchor of the differences between women and men was laid bare by the interactions. And through it all Lara Rossi as Anne ploughed a road, a lonely road, a fierce road, a determined road towards a final resolution standing together with Frederick Wentworth, their future road not necessarily happy but hopeful and honest. Great companion piece in my theatrical memories of the production we saw at Bolton Octagon of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall which may have been less theatrically inventive but was definitely in the same vein of hard-won love conquering all.

Jeff James – Director
Alex Lowde – Designer
Lucy Carter – Lighting Design
Ben and Max Ringham – Music and Sound Design
Dramaturg – James Yeatman

Geraldine Alexander – Lady Russell/Mrs Croft
Antony Bunsee – Sir Walter Elliot/Admiral Croft
Helen Cripps – Mary Musgrove (née Elliot)
Samuel Edward-Cook – Captain Frederick Wentworth
Cassie Layton – Elizabeth Elliot/Louisa Musgrove
Caroline Moroney – Mrs Clay/Henrietta Musgrove
Lara Rossi – Anne Elliot
Dorian Simpson – Charles Musgrove
Arthur Wilson – Edmund Hayter/Captain Benwick/Mr WW Elliot

Rehearsal photographer: Johan Persson; all photographs in collages from the website of The Royal Exchange Theatre Manchester