Tight collars and tighter dialogue were on display as Charlotte Productions continued their ‘adaptations of forgotten literature’ with Miss Marchbanks, a delightful romp of a Victorian play that managed to fulfil its potential whilst belying its stuffy roots.
Given that the original subject matter is the sort of show regularly turned into a turgid Sunday afternoon BBC2 drama, it came as a pleasant surprise to find that Miss Marchbanks was both salacious and hilarious. It had a tortuous plot rife with sexual and actual politics, as visitors both invited and unwelcome came into the parlour to meet with Miss Marchbanks (played splendidly by Lorna Stephen) or her perennially absent and absent-minded father (Dave Coates). They were all welcomed in and walked around by another highlight performer, the scurrying and somewhat harangued servant Nicholls (James Beagon). There were some of the same long pauses that puncture the lungs of said period dramas, but they were always injected with a tension that was more comedic than uncomfortable.
The useful feature of the parlour as the only room of the show meant more and more character combinations could be contrived through the pretence of holding ‘evenings’, afternoon teas or surreptitious conversations. This led to well-rounded characters with many facets shown. Ellen McNicoll stole the show as the pompous Mrs Chiley, Miss Marchbanks hysterical confidante; her shocked asides were exceedingly well-timed. However, every actor played their parts with confidence and aplomb; there was not a weak link in the cast.
The set was minimalist, but well put together, as were the costume, the cut-glass accents, and even the stilted shuffling walks. Indeed everything about this university production struck the balance between charm and professionalism, down to the hilarious and confessional programme notes. It ended with a clever fourth-wall breaking conceit that saw Nicholls inform the audience that ‘Mr. Marchbanks would like some privacy now’ and then usher them out, showing that even such a now hackneyed genre has space for innovation.