As guilty pleasures go, a dose of Austen is probably as guilt free as they come. Frequently re-adapted and re-consumed she may be, but her works remain as comforting as a mug of tomato soup and a fleece dressing gown.
It's polished, relentlessly appealing and brimming with talent.
Stephanie Dale’s adaptation of Persuasion works exceptionally well to trim the novel down to a manageable two-hour production, keeping the pace fairly sprightly but allowing space for the side characters to provide the gentle but much loved comedy typical of Austen. The heroine narrator, Anne Elliot, is the heart of this story and Ceri-Lynn Cissone plays her beautifully. Still and centered, she draws the eye without demanding it and leads us through Anne’s story of youthfully discarded love and its consequences as the years roll on. The suffocating circle of family and society that surround Anne are all played by a small but hugely impressive cast in multiple roles. This works very well to illustrate the claustrophobia of her life but also provides real moments of interest and showcases the strength of the cast. Most striking is the portrayal of both Wentworth, Anne’s erstwhile soulmate, and Mr. Elliot, her villainous potential suitor, by the same actor in the same coat. Jason Ryall’s realisation of these two characters is so authentically different in these roles that it gives an excellent reminder of what acting is actually all about. Lucinda Turner’s perpetually self-absorbed Mary is perfect and she pulls in the laughs although I feel her Lady Russell was a little under developed.
In many ways this is a very straightforward and uncontroversial period play. Some might accuse it of being rather staid and traditionally presented but I would disagree. Under Kate McGregor’s direction it has some beautifully fresh elements. As Anne approaches her epiphany she breaks the fourth wall to plead for help from the cast who respond endearingly. Classical instruments are prominently hung around the set and the cast snatch them up to perform periodically. These pieces are both lovely in their own right and support the narrative throughout, often driving the story or providing the right atmosphere. It easily evokes the drawing rooms of parochial England. The colonnaded set itself by Charlotte Cooke is elegant and allows a dynamic freedom of movement.
Theatre6’s Persuasion won't fit everyone’s idea of an edgy night out at a Fringe festival but for others it will be the absolute highlight. It's polished, relentlessly appealing and brimming with talent.