reviewed at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge on 4 July
Novels and plays both tell stories. However, they often do this in different ways. In his new Jane Austen adaption for The Production Exchange, Tim Luscombe chooses to make part of the action which make up the multi-layered plot of Emma happen before our eyes (and ears) rather than to be revealed as a sequence of dénouements.
So we follow Frank Churchill (George Kemp)’s secret engagement to Jane Fairfax (Georgie Oulton) with all his convolution of subterfuge – designed to ensure his legacy from his domineering aunt – before Austen allows us to understand it. It makes him much more of the villain of the piece and allows us to sympathise with Jane’s predicament from the beginning.
Both Oulton and Kemp make the most of this; Oulton’s portrait especially comes over as that of a young woman with a conscience torn between love and financial necessity rather than as a simple feminine victim. There’s another neat study of a certain kind of womanhood in Hannah Genesius’ Mrs Elton.
Miss Bates with her disconnected vocal ramblings is made sympathetic in Kate Copeland’s brown-sparrow characterisation. Polly Misch makes the rather dippy, easily influenced Harriet an excellent foil to Bethan Nash’s Emma, the heroine who loves matchmaking and being the queen bee of her small local society. One understands why Philip Edgerley’s Mr Knightley is so exasperated as well as charmed by her.
Selfishly hypochondriac Mr Woodhouse and self-important Mr Elton make an interesting double for Nicholas Tizzard. Colin Blumenau’s production uses two levels in Libby Watson’s setting. One is a tilted circle (a wedding-ring, perhaps?) and the other is the well inside it, furnished with a table, chairs and a keyboard. Mike Cassidy’s lighting is subtle and the choreography by Claire Cassidy thoroughly applause-worthy.
Four and a half- star rating.
Emma runs at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge until 8 July with matinées on 6 and 8 July.