Writer: Jane Austen
Adaption: Dawn Bush
Director: Pete Gallagher
Staging a Jane Austen with five actors is no small feat, but the cast of Dot Productions embraces the task with an energy and enthusiasm that is highly endearing. It makes for a magical performance of this lesser-produced tale. Despite having been adapted far fewer times than Austen’s big three – Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma – Persuasion is a real favourite with readers. Not only do many identify with the more mature heroine of Anne Elliott, but the themes of the book have spoken to us most particularly over the last few years: the wasting of time, the reassessment of priorities, the fatigue of care-taking, and the hope of it not yet being too late for one’s life to take an unexpected turn for the better.
Persuasion was the last of Austen’s novels, published posthumously. It is the story of a lost love reunited. After eight years apart, Anne Elliot (Susie Garvey Williams) meets her old beau Captain Wentworth (Dom Thompson), and their lives become entwined once again. Persuaded as she was by her family and her mentor Lady Russell (Holly Barnes), Anne once broke off her engagement to Wentworth, and so on their reunion things are rather complicated. Old wounds must be brought out into the open and healed, but not before some classic Austen misunderstandings, mishaps, and misgivings.
Dot Productions play with the Austen troupes beautifully with the highly anticipated overheard conversations, misspoken statements, mistaken obligations, destructive vanity, charming villains, and fussy families. It’s all here, and watching the company bring it to life is a joyful theatrical experience. Not even a light sprinkle of rain can put off this crowd or even the cast as Captain Wentworth (Dom Tomson) returns for his hat because, as he adds, it has started raining.
Not only do the cast all give excellent performances, but they do so across multiple characters. It seems a spell is cast where we forget that a single person is playing multiple roles, six in the case of Holly Baynes. Baynes receives a resounding cheer of appreciation for her performance as Anne’s hysterical, self-obsessed sister, Mary Musgrove. As the worldly-wise Mrs Croft, she is skilfully unrecognisable. The same can be said for Sophie Todd who plays Anne’s other ghastly sister, Elizabeth Elliot, her adoring but ailing best friend Janet Smith, and the naïve but highly enthusiastic Louisa Musgrove. So distinctive and well-drawn are the characters, that it seems inconceivable they could be played by the same person.
Another delight to watch is Andrew Lindfield playing Anne’s vain father Sir Walter Elliot, her sister’s long-suffering husband Charles Musgrove, Admiral Croft, and the melancholy Captain Benwick. He draws attention to the hilarity of so many character shifts by coming on at one point with two wigs and asking, “Who am I now?” His playful disregard for the conventions of theatre is devilishly enjoyable to behold. While playing Anne’s father, Lindfield even interrupts proceedings by appearing over the top of an internal wall multiple times to disrupt his daughter’s narrative with excellent comic timing. It’s funny, but it’s also a brilliant portrayal of the influence of demanding family members.
Anne Elliot, our intelligent heroine, is brilliantly cast in Susie Garvey-Williams. She gives a perfect performance as the constant, sensible energy the other characters can bluster about with all their pomp and chaos. Dom Thomson as the pained Captain Wentworth also gives an excellent performance, playing on the crowd’s sympathies with his masterful lovelorn facial expressions.
The cast of Dot Productions really seem to be having a whale of a time and their affection for their show is infectious. Not only do they ooze delight for Austen, but they invite us into their world. The set is the pleasing backdrop of the interior of a period home. In front of which, furniture is shifted about as the cast moves us between locations, collectively creating a cappella music. The cast can sing, but the ‘bum di bum’ is also just the right amount of ludicrous to have everyone lighting up each time it returns.
This production seems to have a wonderful way of making the audience feel like they are an integral part of the proceedings. The company draws us so close, we quite lose our sense of even being in an audience. We could almost feel we were up there with them. A rare magic is afoot. This is a beautifully persuasive performance that must not be missed.
Reviewed on 23rd August 2023