Theatre Review: “Take care with what you are persuaded to do.”
Jane Austen conducted her first attempt at a novel aged 15 when she wrote Love and Friendship, and at the age of 21 she began to compose Pride and Prejudice: a novel which would later become one of Austen’s greatest successes. After her death, Austen’s most recently completed novel, Persuasion, was published and became one of the most loved pieces of romantic comedy literature in the 1800s right up until today. The satire that is exhibited in Austen’s first novel combined with the effortless romance and irony that is present in works like Pride and Prejudice leaves Persuasion to be a symbiosis of the two with a mature approach to love, social ideologies and female independence. Austen has the ability to draw connections between what people say and what they do, creating the ironic style that she is known for in the present day. Jane Austen’s Persuasion shows a fluid transition from the Romantic literary era to the 21st Century regarding social issues and will remain a timeless classic with the help of theatrical director Kate McGregor. By turning the well-loved novel into a stage production, a little over 200 years after it was originally published, the theatre tour of Persuasion will continue to warm the hearts of hopeful romantics for many more years to come.
The story goes as follows:
Anne Elliot is deemed by society as a perpetual spinster when she remains unmarried at the ripe old age of 27. Meanwhile, Anne’s father is drowning in debt and decides to relocate his family in Bath in order to prevent spending his money to excess, leaving their family home to be rented by an Admiral whose family already has connections with Anne Elliot… She and Frederick Wentworth were young and in love but being persuaded by her prosperous and prominent family to refuse Wentworth’s proposal, Anne lost the great love of her life. Eight years later, circumstances have been reversed, and Anne begins to realise that she was wrong about what yielding to persuasion was.
McGregor had the task of reducing the novel to an appropriate length for the theatre, whilst maintaining the integral parts of Austen’s observations. She declares: “A lot of [Austen’s] female characters were very strong and had bold opinions and feelings. In many ways when we were developing Persuasion we found that Anne couldn’t be taken out of her time, she is part of history and her world, but her world was going through huge amounts of social, political and scientific change which is something we are experiencing as well.” It is the character of head-strong feminist Anne that resonates with a modern audience when she is placed in a time and location that is not too far away from our own. Charlotte Cooke’s simply creative set design is reminiscent of the neo-classical architecture that was prominent at the time of writing, truly transporting the audience to another time, whilst maintaining the understanding of the play in relation to both periods in time.
The theatrical adaptation for Autumn 2018 showcases six incredibly talented actors who also provide classical live music to accompany the scenes. Ceri-Lyn Cissone plays the role of Anne and plays the piano alongside Indigo Griffiths (playing Elizabeth, Louisa and Meg). Matthew Atkins plays the role of Sir Walter and Admiral Croft and performing the violin, Siobhan Gerrard plays Henrietta and Mrs Musgrove and performing the flute, Jason Ryall plays Anne’s love interest, Wentworth, and playing the piano, and Lucinda Turner plays Mary and the clarinet.
Aptly labelled quick changes and enchanting music made the production magical to watch and thoroughly enjoyable. When each creative aspect of the production is brought together on stage, the audience is fully immersed in the timeless essence of music and literature that represents the Romantic movement. Kate McGregor writes “The theatre just melts away from Anne on stage and it allows the audience to really connect with Jane Austen’s story, and what it truly feels like to be in Anne’s position.”
Stephanie Dale’s adaptation and McGregor’s directing leads to a culturally relevant, heart-warming and comical production, thoroughly fulfilling one of the core mantras of the play: “Laugh when you can, it is cheap medicine.”
Persuasion is being shown at the Liverpool Playhouse until Saturday 13th October, and tickets can be found on the link below: