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Review Roundup: London Premiere Of THE WATSONS Opens At Menier Chocolate Factory

Review Roundup: London Premiere Of THE WATSONS Opens At Menier Chocolate Factory

Chichester Festival Theatre and Menier Chocolate Factory presents the London première of Olivier Award-winner Laura Wade's The Watsons at the Menier.

Samuel West directs original cast members Sam Alexander (Robert Watson), Sally Bankes (Nanny), Joe Bannister (Lord Osborne), Jane Booker (Lady Osborne), Elaine Claxton (Mrs Edwards), Tim Delap (Mr Howard), Sophie Duval (Mrs Robert), Louise Ford (Laura), John Wilson Goddard (Mr Watson), Grace Molony (Emma Watson), Elander Moore (Bertie), Paksie Vernon (Elizabeth Watson), Cat White (Miss Osborne) and Laurence Ubong Williams (Tom Musgrave), who are joined by Rhianna McGreevy (Margaret Watson), with Isaac Forward, Sonny Fowler and Teddy Probets sharing the role of Charles Howard for the run at the Menier.

The Watsons played to critical acclaim at Chichester Festival Theatre in 2018. The production opened at the Menier on 30 September and runs until 16 November.

What happens when the writer loses the plot?

Emma Watson is nineteen and new in town. She's been cut off by her rich aunt and dumped back in the family home. Emma and her sisters must marry, fast. If not, they face poverty, spinsterhood, or worse: an eternity with their boorish brother and his awful wife.

Luckily there are plenty of potential suitors to dance with, from flirtatious Tom Musgrave to castle-owning Lord Osborne, who's as awkward as he is rich.

So far so familiar. But there's a problem: Jane Austen didn't finish the story. Who will write Emma's happy ending now?

Based on her incomplete novel, this sparklingly witty play looks under the bonnet of Jane Austen and asks: what can characters do when their author abandons them.

Marianka Swain, BroadwayWorld: Laura Wade isn't the first to tackle Jane Austen's unfinished novel, abandoned in 1805, but she is the only one so far to write herself, the struggling adaptor, into the text. This witty, ingenious and surprisingly philosophical play, which premiered at Chichester last year, merges Austen with Pirandello, and satire with big existential questions.

Jessie Thompson, Evening Standard: It's joyously directed by Samuel West, who corrals a large cast to bring great detail to both broad comedy and moments of tenderness. As Emma, Moloney announces herself as a huge talent to watch; elsewhere, excelling in a fine ensemble are Joe Bannister as a lord who is bad at speaking to women, Jane Booker as his priggish mother and Paksie Vernon as Emma's put-upon older sister.

David Benedict, Variety: Initially, these questions are not unlike Pirandello's groundbreaking "Six Characters in Search of An Author," from 1921, but that play never had the laugh count that Wade racks up. Emma is initially baffled, while everyone else is outraged. And the more Laura tries to explain, the more Austen's formality and her characters are overtaken by frankly hilarious anarchy - so much so that audiences find themselves in the rare situation of having no idea what might happen but safe in the prospect of pure enjoyment.

John Nathan, MetroNews: It is not the first time a writer has inserted him or herself into a work. But this one is so wittily self-aware it pirouettes past all the traps that go with an idea that might have seemed too clever by half. And it does it all while never losing sight of Austen's sense and sensibility.

Andrze J Lukowski, Time Out London: There's an edgier take on 'The Watsons' to be had, and I'd like to see it. But there's probably not a more fun one. Which should stand it in good stead: with its 18-strong cast, wedged into the tiny 150-seat Menier for a relatively brief run, I've pretty sure I've never seen a show more blatantly gearing up for a leap to the West End, where it will hopefully cause all sorts of trouble.

Clive Davis, The Times: While you do learn a lot from this self-referential comedy - at one point the characters debate Hobbes and Rousseau - the whole thing is delivered with such a light touch that you hardly notice when Wade lobs another footnote into the stalls. Beautifully acted, this is a play that keeps you guessing until the last second.

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