Writer: Jane Austen
Adaptor: Tim Luscombe
Director: Colin Blumenau
Reviewer: Lindsay Sykes
Mansfield Park is one of Jane Austen’s lesser known books. Using her classic formula we are treated to yet another tale of morals and love from the spinster daughter of a Hampshire country Rector. Witty and well observed, we are treated to the rituals of courtship while looking for wealth and consequence and ultimately happiness.
Ffion Jolly’s Fanny Price is a wide-eyed, innocent heroine, growing up from the poor child given to the care of her rich relations into a young woman of sense and values. Pete Ashmore is Edmund Bertram, as the younger Bertram brother he is destined for the Church. He clearly adores Fanny but it takes time for familiar affection to grow into a loving relationship. Aunt Norris is a gloriously unpleasant busybody determined to keep Fanny in her place and Julie Teal plays her just the right side of nasty. Richard Heap gives shows his talent with taciturn Sir Thomas Bertram; uncle to Fanny; father to Tom, Edmund and Maria and brother in law to Mrs Norris.
The siblings of the neighbouring Crawford family are a mixture of vile, fascinating and repellent. With Eddie Eyre’s Henry just losing to Laura Doddington’s Mary in the snobbery stakes. Luscombe’s adaptation doesn’t stick closely to the original story but doesn’t stray so far as to be unrecognisable, a few characters are lost from the original and greater emphasis is put on minor characters, like William Price, than in the novel, which works well; Geoff Arnold triples the part of William with those of the Tom Bertram and Mr Rushworth, whom Maria Bertram (Leonie Spilsbury) marries and leaves with some speed.
Blumenau and designer Kit Surrey ensure that the action is fast-paced. The staging is minimalist but works well. Long grey curtains printed with Regency pictures – a town, country and naval scenes provide the back drop, and steps and a balustrade, a scattering of divan cushions comprise the set. The costumes were beautiful and special mention must go to the wardrobe department from the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds who provided them
The whole show is well acted, well-staged and charming. But it doesn’t catch the imagination in the same way that other productions can and some of the speech is hard to follow and hard to hear which can be distracting if you don’t know that plot. There is also an element of confusion with some of the scenes changing so fast you don’t realise what’s happening and with only 8 actors playing 16 rôles you have to work hard not to lose the plot.