Writer: Sarah Jackson
Reviewer: Niall Harman
What happens when the world of Jane Austen collides with the modern day? In the case of Austen Empowered, not much of note.
Young Juliet is informed by her aunt (whose mannish quality becomes increasingly apparent) that despite her misgivings about men, it is time for her to find a husband. At a party, she is snogged by the dapper but arrogantMr Halloway after he proceeds to tease and mock her, much to her chagrin. Anyone who has not been living under a rock for the last two hundred years will recognise the plot as lifted from Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and as such, the ending is obvious from the outset, although this variation does include interesting use of glove puppets and a fair amount of vodka.
The story is given a somewhat modern twist. This is hardly new with Austen’s works. Helen Fielding used Pride and Prejudice’s Mr Darcy in Bridget Jones and Emma became 90s high school flick Clueless. Here, the setting is somewhat muddled. The characters wear semi-traditional costumes, coupled with trainers and jeans. They speak in a manner reminiscent of Austen, but slip into modern prose at points, such as when a character takes a tumble and is deemed to have ‘stacked it’ and ‘faceplanted’.
The problem of the piece is that it never knows where to pitch itself. It occupies a bizarre middle ground between Austen’s world and ours, and the reason for doing so is never made clear. It fails to properly mock the dated traditions and courtship rituals of the early 19th Century. Yet it is not a modernisation of Pride and Prejudice either. The motivation behind creating this piece was never really made clear, and while the contrast between the morals of the modern day and the 1800s is mildly amusing, it is too thin a concept to be stretched to a full-length piece, even if it is only an hour long.
Nevertheless, the cast is very charming and seem to be enjoying themselves immensely. Amanda Stewart made for an ideal Austen heroine, and as her aunt with an obvious secret, David Mattless raises some big laughs. The staging is most simplistic, with a projector telling the audience of scene changes and chairs being pretty much the only props. Yet these are used effectively in split screen scenes where Juliet and Halloway discuss their love lives with their best friends.
Despite a keen cast and impeccable source material, Austen Empowered cracks only a few laughs and leftthis Austen fan feeling underwhelmed.
Runs until 21 May 2016 | Image: Contributed