Theatre Review: Jane Austen’s Persuasion, Playhouse Theatre, Liverpool

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Image Source: Playhouse Theatre

Written By: Andrea Young

Format: Play
Genre: Drama
Date: October 9 2018
Location: Playhouse Theatre, Liverpool

The monologue from Anne Elliot at the start of Theatre6’s production of Persuasion may make you think you have walked into an adaptation of a Bronte novel.

However, the back-and-forth between Anne’s private thoughts, and how she presents herself to the world, is a revelation in this adaptation of Austen’s last, and probably least-known, novel. The structure that the play uses to show us Anne’s private thoughts reminds us that the past lives with us everyday, shaping everything we do.

The private and public sides of Anne play well alongside each other, until that private emotion bursts out in a very public, literal crescendo. The music throughout the performance is beautiful, both evocative of the period, and yet modern. It is pitched just right. The whole cast sings or plays at some point, creating a true feeling of an ensemble piece.

Loneliness and fitting in are topics brought to the forefront in this adaptation; the play transposes the Musgrove girls against the Elliots, showing how Anne can enjoy life in one arena but not so much in another. Casting the same actress (Indigo Griffiths) to play both Anne’s sister Elizabeth and Louisa Musgrove adds an extra layer to the argument that this play, and the novel, makes about seeking out the right environment for oneself in which to thrive.

The play cleverly juxtaposes the frivolity and playfulness of Anne and Wenthworth’s youth against Wentworth’s relationship with Louisa, serving to show just how right Anne and Wentworth’s relationship is, even though time has passed.

The two share a unique bond and a unique way of looking at the world. This is not a story about perfect love; Anne’s well placed eye-roll at Wentworth’s story-telling is a nice illustration of how this is not a naive love, and it highlights the potential for the future of their more mature relationship.

Ceri-Lyn Cissone’s performance as Anne verges on heartbreaking when she admits how few people really understand her.

Lucinda Turner also gives stand-out performances as Mary, Mrs Clay and Lady Russell. Her characterisation of Mary offers enough sympathy to avoid caricature, something which Austen was a genius at herself.

Musings on the differences between men and women are not avoided, but they are dealt with gently, and sensitively, and still strike a chord with a contemporary audience.

The staging, while minimal, is inventive, as the locations move from the town to the sea. Look out for the amusing carriage ride. The levels of the stage are used well.

The play takes on the challenge of staging letters – one of Austen’s key plot and character development devices – with gusto. The letters are brought to life in refreshing ways.

There are just a couple of moments that could have been a bit more heightened in their staging. Anne’s chance to shine in the crisis of Louisa’s fall is slightly underplayed and taken off stage a little too quickly. Perhaps a bit more could have been made of the moment that Anne finally tells Mrs Russell, who persuaded her all those years ago to forsake Wentworth, that her feelings for him remain, and that this time she is going to take action. While far from a cruel oppressor, Mrs Russell had a far more powerful hold over her in her youth – the power of persuasion.

The one thing this production does bring forth is the genius of Austen’s use of juxtaposition, and how a change in perspective can bring new feelings and revelations to light. The ending of the play is both upbeat and soothing, evoking the adventure of the sea, and the possibilities that come with the start of a new journey. The end of this play makes it clear that this is really just the beginning for the happy couple.

Overall Rating: 8/10 – Very Good