"a unique adaptation for stage"
by Debra Hall for remotegoat on 30/04/15

It is always a brave choice to adapt a classic novel for stage as there is a danger of it being tedium personified, but I will dispel any negativity straightaway; as it’s all good. Adrian Preater has achieved much in this unique adaptation, with a bare bone approach in which he incorporates an instrument playing introduction and other music interludes, plus the comedy element; it is all very enjoyable.

Fundamentally the lines are the source of the entertainment. What does more is the timing, the subtle expression; and the on-stage team work of the ensemble cast members taking on multiple roles, which includes music playing and scenery moving.

Emily Lockwood deftly narrates, and, as this role is vital, she is the only player who appears as one consistent character throughout, namely Anne Elliott, Anne is nineteen and in love, but when faced with the snobbish attitude and disapproving views of her family she turns her back on her romance.

Taking a leap forward by eight years, spinster Anne has dulled a little in both looks and spirit and has become overlooked by those same family members. Clare Harlow is sometimes playing one of Anne’s two sisters, if not, she is another female character, never leaving the stage but making her entrances from the rear we get to know her intention, simply by the tilting of the head and the upward twisting of the wrists, or a small adjustment to her costume and a bigger adjustment to the voice.

Preater is an actor, in this, his own adaptation, and plays Anne’s father, Elliott, full of vanity and self importance he can be so ‘deliciously’ insulting. He is also Anne’s hard-to-pin-down brother-in-law, Charles, and, when down by the coast in Lyme Regis, he is the poet mad, Captain James Benwick. Again it is the energy and interchanging, the turn of phrase; and the exits to stage back and entrances to the stage front which is the eye draw.

The eyes can easily fixate too on Peter Randall, both as officer, Captain Wentworth in his naval jacket, and as Mr William Elliot with his silky cravat, both characters are amiable and unattached (for the best part). Randall is clever when he separates the differences of personality, stance, facial expression, and is astute with his interpretation of the agenda driven responses of the two males.

When scenes call for performers to appear as more than one character which has been assigned to them, they acknowledge, wave and call out to ‘invisible’ people to the side. This is very amusing!

Anne Elliott is not full of self will as some of the young women in other Austen novels. She is resilient, reliable, but regretful and a little uptight. Lockwood plays her ‘to the book’. I was hoping however, to see Anne transformed out of that ghastly get-up, especially the polyester skirt and the flat slippers, by the play’s end!

One other very tiny criticism; the clarinet sound does not fit with the mood. Nevertheless, the sound of the stringed instruments, the percussion, and the squeeze box particularly, is extremely enhancing and all round effective.

The show is on tour, go and see it in your town, because it is rather special.

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