The Theatreguide.London Review
Menier Chocolate Factory Autumn 2019; Harold Pinter Theatre Summer 2020
This is a very very
funny comedy, and I recommend it enthusiastically.
After that, I'm
not sure what to say, because this adaptation by Laura Wade of an
unfinished Jane Austen novel is so filled with twists, surprises and
reveals that almost anything I say will be a spoiler.
forgive me as I spoil things as little as I can.
abandoned her novel The Watsons for unknown reasons, having got as
far as introducing the characters and setting up the situation.
Watson, the youngest and brightest of three unmarried sisters, looks
around at the country society she lives in and finds a recognisable
mix of Austen types – shallow men, silly women and others with one
comic failing or another.
The novel's problem is
that Emma must wed,
but who should she choose (assuming they offer) – the rakish young
man, the dark brooding young man, the almost terminally shy but rich
young man, or the admirable but poor clergyman?
Adaptor Laura Wade,
director Samuel West and an attractive cast present this set-up with
exactly the right stylishness, partly respectful, partly sprightly
romp and partly tongue-in-cheek send-up.
But then we reach the
Austen's manuscript. And here is my first (and I hope last) spoiler.
A new character named
Laura Wade appears and tries to explain to Emma
and the others that they are not real live people but characters in a
novel and play, and that she, the playwright, is having trouble
deciding what to do with them next.
Things get a little
that point, with some overtones of the 2006 Emma Thompson-Will
Ferrell movie Stranger Than Fiction.
Suffice to say – since I
really don't want to give anything more away – that the onstage
Laura's attempts to maintain control over her increasingly rebellious
and independent characters while still finding an ending for the
Austen story make up the rest of the play.
There is a lot more, and
it is all surprising and hilarious, while always – and a salute to
the real Laura Wade for this – retaining the spirit of the Austen
Grace Molony makes Emma
the perfect Austen heroine –
intelligent, witty, observant, practical and sexy – even as events
take her further and further away from where the story started out.
As Laura, Louise Ford
amusingly captures the confusion and mounting
panic of a would-be playwright with writer's block who increasingly
discovers that 's the least of her problems.
There is strong and
generous (because always serving the play and production) comic
support from Joe Bannister, Sophie Duval, Jane Booker, Laurence Ubong
Williams, Sally Bankes and a uniformly excellent large cast.
You don't have to know your Pride And Prejudice from your Carry On Jane to enjoy this clever, inventive, repeatedly surprising and thoroughly delightful romp.
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