The Theatreguide.London Review
Menier Chocolate Factory Autumn 2019
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.
So please forgive me as I
spoil things as little as I can.
Jane Austen abandoned her
novel The Watsons for unknown reasons, having got as far as introducing
the characters and setting up the situation.
Emma 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
But then we reach the end of
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
Pirandello at 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 universe.
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
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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