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Review: PERSUASION, Rose Theatre

Jeff James' re-imagining of Jane Austen's final novel is full of wit and wisdom

Review: PERSUASION, Rose Theatre

Review: PERSUASION, Rose Theatre First seen back in 2017 at Manchester's Royal Exchange, Jeff James and James Yeatman's boldly modern adaptation of Jane Austen's last novel Persuasion now makes a triumphant entrance at the Rose Theatre. It is often cited that Austen was ahead of her time and this adaptation throws away the concept of bonnets and breeches, to sweep the action firmly into the present day.

At 27, Anne is already resigned to being single, having been persuaded to reject the love of her life, Wentworth, eight years ago when he left to go to sea. Still in love and full of regret, she detaches herself from the social whirl to quietly observe the pressures and expectations on others, only to find herself pushed towards marriage and a new hope of love.

Sasha Frost is a reserved and calm Anne; slightly awkward, but also wise, she carries much of the action with her refusal to conform to the life that society expects her to have. Fred Fergus is an amiable Wentworth, who plays well with the social niceties and shows that he values wit and intelligence in women.

The difficulties of marriage are played out with Anne's sister Mary and her husband Charles. Highly strung and stifled by family life, Helen Cripps' Mary is perfect as a put-upon mother and Dorian Simpson is a very likeable Charles. Through them, Austen warns that a wedding is not the culmination of a love story.

This contrasts nicely the desperation of Anne's young relations Henrietta and Louisa, who only have the goal of marriage in their minds. The pair are played with brilliant comic timing by Caroline Maroney and Matilda Bailes, who also double up as Mrs Clay and Elizabeth. Bailes, in particular, makes an impressive professional stage debut as Louisa, who pouts, twerks and preens around the stage, begging for male attention.

They are ably supported by a strong cast, including Adam Deary, who brings an interestingly sinister side to Anne's cousin Mr Elliot.

Director Jeff James strikes a tricky balance. The show retains the essence of Austen; how a group of people navigate life through bruised hearts, social expectations and frustrating courtship rituals, while making every element seem completely contemporary.

The first ten minutes of the play feel a little hesitant and Anne's tendency to push various people off the platform when she doesn't like what they say is amusing at first, but quickly begins to grate. However, as the play warms up, James' direction creates interest and pace, despite the fact there are no real props used at all. There are some unexpectedly creative moments; a daytrip to Lyme Regis morphs into a foam party in swimwear and a society ball becomes a club scene, complete with throbbing bass and shadowy corners.

Alex Lowde's design is backdrop of a huge blue PVC curtain, surrounding a double-height, white platform that swivels to create a long white catwalk to differentiate between scenes. This is complimented by Lucy Carter's colourful lighting design and Ben and Max Ringman's effective sound design, with a pulsating soundtrack featuring Nicki Minaj, Dua Lipa and Frank Ocean.

This is certainly Jane Austen for people who think they do not like her work. Overall, the production is very funny and subversive, but it doesn't try too hard. The production makes Austen's writing feel as modern and relevant as it deserves.

Persuasion is at the Rose Theatre until 19 March and then moves to the Alexandra Palace Theatre (7-30 April)

Photo Credit: The Other Richard

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From This Author - Aliya Al-Hassan

Aliya Al-Hassan is UK Managing Editor of BroadwayWorld. A London-based theatre critic and journalist, she has a life-long passion for the arts, with a focus on theatre and opera. She is a... (read more about this author)

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