DramaReviewSouth East

Emma – Yvonne Arnaud Theatre, Guildford

Writer: Jane Austen
Adaptor: Tim Luscombe
Director: Colin Blumenau
Reviewer: Steve Turner

Translating such a work from the page to the stage is no easy task but it is one that adaptor Tim Luscombe clearly excels in. Following earlier successes with other Austen works, he turns his attention to the story of Emma Woodhouse. As he admits in the programme notes, some of the chronological order of the novel has been altered in order to help the audience keep up to date with all the gossip and interplay between the characters. One obvious amendment has been to set the play in Epsom and not the fictional Austen village of Highbury, a decision made after some careful investigation led Luscombe to deduce that Epsom was the real setting chosen by Austen more than

To avoid the narrative being broken up by scene changes all of the events take place on a very minimalist set which serves to keep the audience’s attention focused on the witty dialogue and comedic exchanges which come thick and fast. Delivering most of the dialogue is Emma of the title.

A young lady who enjoys her position as mistress of the house, looking after her hypochondriac father and in no rush to marry and give up her freedom. Bethan Nash is perfectly cast in the lead role, bringing the character to life with a delicate balance of charm, snobbery, self-absorption and outbursts of adolescent tantrums. Flushed with her success at matchmaking she flits between vowing never to match make again, and spending much of her time trying to marry off her young friend Harriet Smith. Her intrigues give rise to many complications and misunderstandings providing most of the comedy for the evening.

The arrival of Mrs Elton puts Emma’s nose out of joint, for now she has a rival in snobbishness and Hannah Genesius plays the role beautifully, just the right amount of disdain in her voice when putting Emma in her place and the perfect condescending tone when arranging the picnic make her character the perfect foil for the light-hearted cheerfulness of Emma.

Phillip Edgerley is a loyal and steadfast Mr Knightley, charming and yet not afraid to tell Emma when she has overstepped the mark, he keeps his feelings to himself as a gentleman should but all along there is a suspicion as to where his heart lies.

Beloved of these period works there is always a place for a talkative spinster, in this case, the well- meaning but ultimately rather dull Miss Bates is played perfectly by Kate Copeland, here just one of a trio of women of slender means trying to make their way in Regency England. The other two women in this trio are played by newcomers Polly Misch as Harriet, and Georgie Oulton as Jane Fairfax. Both imbue their characters with a blend of innocence, hope and desire that make them all the more believable, very commendable for their debut performances.

With some imaginative staging and lighting, crisp witty dialogue and of course a well-crafted plot this is an enjoyable evening and well recommended to those who know the story as well as those who do not.

Runs until 3 June 2017 then continues to tour | Image: Mark Douet

 

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The South East team is under the editorship of Nicole Craft. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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