For the bicentenary of Jane Austen's death and the publication of Persuasion, Jeff James and James Yeatman have adapted the text into an exhilarating two hour production at the Royal Exchange theatre, Manchester.
Drawing on themes that are still prevalent in the modern world, particularly feminism and the archaic pressures on marriage and social status, the show is done entirely without bonnets, bustles or frills. The audience on opening night was mostly 60+ and I couldn't help but wonder if they expected a more traditional Austen or whether the swearing, sex, club music and nudity was exactly what they expected, as I did, from the Royal Exchange.
The adaptation itself was superb, these all-important 'dances' that the aristocracy socialised at were based on the London club scene, clever choreography by Morgann Runacre-Temple made the large stage and sparse cast pulse, feel hypnotic and crowded with help from great musical choices by Ben and Max Ringham from empowered female artists like Nicki Minaj and Azealia Banks. Dowager Viscountess Dalrymple as the avant-garde bald fashionista in a glittering catsuit in an exclusive London club was a stroke of genius and made a 200 year old play feel like it was written as modern day.
The set was specifically about main character Anne Elliot. I think it was about her going through mental upheaval at the return of her great love who she rebuked after coercion from her family. The stage was a long white block, that precariously spun out into two pieces throughout the story, later realigning when Anne and Captain Wentworth finally reunite. Other characters interacted with the stage but only under Anne's control, she was able to push them off the stage when she didn't want to hear from them, but she herself couldn't leave.
There is a very impressive production stunt before the interval during the family holiday to Lyme Regis. I won't give too much away as it is a magical experience. All I will say is there is foam involved, and if you saw King Lear at the Royal Exchange this time last year you might well have an inkling!
Props and set were sparse otherwise, costume changes were done in the front rows, a comment on Anne's difference to everyone around her, how she saw through them, how they held material possessions dearer than she did. Suitors were all played by the same actor, Arthur Wilson, again illustrating how they were all the same in comparison to Captain Wentworth.
Lara Rossi was electric as Anne. She was reactionary but independant and revolutionary in spirit, easily able to convey her emotions without the need for text at all, speaking volumes even when silently isolating herself away from her family and their pretences. She embodied strong will whilst still showing us a fragile heartbreak which is ultimately what bridged the gap between this high-end aristocratic world and ours. The rare moments she stopped worrying and instead wholeheartedly danced and sang I fell more and more in love with the character.
"Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything."
—Anne Elliot, Persuasion
I highly recommend going to see Persuasion, you will laugh so much more than you think! The original text is very witty but the supporting cast in particular really run with the embellishments and each have great comic timing of their own.
Persuasion has a 5 week run until the 24th June 2017. Standard tickets are available from £16.50 and the running time is just 2 hours including interval. To book call the Royal Exchange Box Office on 0161 833 9833.