BWW Reviews: LADY ANNA: ALL AT SEA, Park Theatre, August 20 2015
On the one hand, this play is a collection of all those tropes of the Victorian novel that jar and grate on the 21st century ear. Wicked aristocrat - check; noble artisan - check; venal lawyers - check; beautiful maiden dominated by harridan mother - check; dubious paternity - check. (I could go on, but, well you get the picture.)For all that, Lady Anna: All At Sea (at the Park Theatre until 19 September) is an extraordinarily engaging adaptation of Anthony Trollope's 1874 novel, Lady Anna, a production that continually switches between the story itself and the writing of it. There's also plenty of fourth wall breaking and some sly humour inserted from a very 21st century perspective. It's something of a dramatic high wire act too, as there are so many ways for something like this to go wrong, but writer Craig Baxter steers the ship with a steady hand and director Colin Blumenau, just about holds it together (despite some double, even triple, casting that stretches that approach about as far as it can go!) Trollope is writing his 29th novel on the SS Great Britain bound for Melbourne and his son's wedding. He's bickering with his wife, boozing his pals and flirting with the maid, but nothing's too serious for a man at ease with his trade and with the income it brings. He's good company, a mischievous twinkle never far from Tim Frances's eye. Meanwhile, Trollope's novel is emerging, nine pages per day, as he sets family against family, tradition against modernity, love against duty. He rather likes all that stuff and, presented with a light touch like this, so do we. The ensemble cast are tremendous, (literally) wearing different hats, as the action shifts and rolls like the sea on which they sail, with Adam Scott-Rowley full of charm as the bad baronet (who isn't that bad at all) and Caroline Langrishe wonderfully happy to teeter on the edge of pantomime, as the appalling snob Countess Lovell.
On Libby Watson's simple, yet endlessly adaptable, set with its towers of books, no member of the audience is more than four rows from the action, as the drama (or is it melodrama?) unfolds, the Park Theatre again providing a sophisticated alternative to a night (and a bashing of the credit card) in the West End.