Playwright and screenwriter Jeffrey Hatcher has a long career writing
historical dramas, including
It’s light-hearted entertainment with a few interesting touches
With a premise that will appeal to fans of Downton Abbey and Jane Austen, No Name feels very familiar: a series of very Victorian catastrophes forcing two orphaned, unmarried sisters into hunting down rich husbands. The 18-year-old Magdelen Vanstone must quickly grow from being a spoiled brat into a self-confident con-woman, spurred on by her determination to regain the family fortunes by any means necessary. Add to this a handful of mysterious legal documents, family secrets, disreputable relatives, and similar historical melodrama stalwarts and you have an absolute classic of the genre.
Jeffrey Hatcher is a dab hand at translating these Victorian cliches into witty, fast-paced dialogue scenes, but the myriad of labyrinthine 19th-century subplots are a little over-the-top for modern audiences. The never-ending stream of shocking revelations and plot twists make No Name feel like four hours of storyline crammed unwillingly into 90 minutes. It doesn’t come as a huge surprise to learn that the original novel was serialised. This series of soap-operatic cliffhangers would definitely keep you reading each new instalment of the book, but they’re not really necessary when you’re watching the whole thing in one go.
This is the first production of No Name, tested out by Carthage Theatre, a U.S. college theatre company. Jane Burkitt (Magdelen Vanstone) makes for a funny and engaging lead and Andrew Stachurski (Magdelen’s con man uncle) has a talent for this kind of Gilbert and Sullivan-esque comedy. Sadly, some of the supporting actors are not quite up to the task. One actress playing a typically purse-mouthed Victorian governess has an accent that is painfully difficult to place: presumably Scottish, but it could easily be mistaken for Russian. Not a great sign, when you’re performing in Edinburgh. Another actress had the unenviable task of playing Magdelen’s aunt, whose entire purpose in the play is to be fat, stupid, and mocked the other characters. This character, carried over from the novel, feels too cruel and two-dimensional in an otherwise frothily entertaining play. Much like a few of the later plot twists, this character could easily have been altered or removed in the stage adaptation and thus improved the story as a whole.
No Name is very traditional theatre, a kind of Richard Curtis movie for the Jane Austen audience. It’s light-hearted entertainment with a few interesting touches, such as live music and a venue that gives the intimate impression of the play being performed for us in someone’s parlour. Ultimately, though, it would be preferable as performed by a more accomplished theatre company, or as one of Hatcher’s many excellent screen adaptations -- perhaps a TV series, to account for all those plot twists.