Review: Persuasion

This modern adaptation of Jane Austen's final work lacks the subtlety of the novel, and is all the better for it

Hero image

Single twenty-something Anne has spent the last eight years of her life regretting her decision to turn down an offer of marriage from handsome seafarer Captain Wentworth. Persuaded by her family that she could do better than Wentworth, who had nothing to offer at the time apart from his love and ambition, Anne has never got over her first love. Now Wentworth is back on the scene, successful, single and a great catch. And as Anne comes face to face with him again she must confront her choices and her fears, while battling against the forces around her that insist that all women should marry, and marry for prospects rather than love.

So far, so Austen.

But Jeff James and James Yeatman’s bold and subversive adaptation of Jane Austen’s final novel is brought to the stage in the form of a stripped down, highly enjoyable romantic comedy.

The story remains set in the 19th century, but the audience is left in no doubt that this an updated tale that wears its contemporary references on its high-street fashion sleeve. The set is a bare, revolving catwalk upon which the women, and men, parade to a fantastic soundtrack that opens with Robyn’s Call Your Girlfriend, and includes a smattering of Frank Ocean. Here, electronic beats replace orchestras for the all-important dances upon which much of the plot revolves.

Lara Rossi excels as Anne, struggling with the social pressures of the day and haunted by love and regret, while Samuel Edward-Cook’s Wentworth makes for a great romantic hero, lovably gruff and tortured by the past. Also notable are the sisters, Louisa and Henrietta, played by Cassie Layton and Caroline Moroney – daft, preening and desperate for marriage.

The action races along and there are plenty of proper belly laughs to be had in a play that’s not afraid to dive into slapstick and high camp. The central theme of the play, about the risks we must take when we fall in love, resonate through the ages and add an emotional depth to the tale.

There are moments that fall a little flat. In the opening scenes, Anne is possessed of the ability to “throw” people off the stage with just the touch of her hand, a dramatic device that’s too self-conscious and sits at odds with the rest of the play. And there’s the addition of a romance between two minor female characters that feels unnecessary and unearned, coming as it does so briefly at the end of the second act, emerging from nowhere and coming to nothing.

Be prepared too for howls of discontent from hardcore Austen fans over the subtleties of the original text that have been lost in the froth. Subtle this isn’t. But as a feelgood play that bursts with love and frivolity, it’s all the better for it.

Persuasion is on at the Royal Exchange, Manchester, until 24 June

Photo: Johan Persson

If you liked this article, we think you’ll enjoy these:

Interact: Responses to Review: Persuasion

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.