"Clear narrative enhances classic adaptation"
by Colin Snell for remotegoat on 26/09/15

It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that an adaptation of a classic novel for the stage needs a sympathetic and creative hand at work and with Adrian Preater's version of Jane Austen's EMMA the adaptation clearly succeeds in bringing to life Austen's plethora of wonderful characters, all there in abundance, in this very clear narrative. With the exception of Emily Lockwood who plays the heroine, Emma Woodhouse, throughout the entire performance with precision and style, the remaining cast of three are tasked with creating Mr Woodhouse, Mr John Knightley, Mrs Bates, Mr Weston, Harriet Smith, Mrs Weston, Augusta Elton, Mr Knightley, Mr Elton, Frank Churchill and Miss Bates et al which they do with supreme confidence: a change of a scarf or cravat or shawl or bonnet, an accent, a giggle, a walk, a gesture, a movement to delineate the developing story line and the interaction of the characters they are creating. Preater himself, the founder of Shropshire-based Hotbuckle Productions together with his wife, Gemma Aston, is an excellent Mr Woodhouse, shuffling, worrying, fussing over Emma, and is well matched by Peter Randall's stately and somewhat aloof Mr Knightley and Clare Harlow's contrasting Harriet Smith and Jane Fairfax as Emma tries to manipulate the former into marrying someone of a higher rank, as this is the role she takes upon herself, that of matchmaker, whilst failing to understand the character of the latter and misreads the signs between Jane and Frank Churchill. Lockwood's Emma totally underestimates her own feelings towards Mr Knightley until she is threatened at losing him with Harriet Smith's designs on him herself. The production has a clarity about it and attempts a style appropriate for the characters and period. With the use of live music and the inventive use of instruments to create the sounds of worrying wasps or horses' hooves, this is a production that offers a charm and humour whilst retaining all those elements of the original. Not everything works, however, but this is more to do with staging and directorial choices; the constant changing of bits of costume in full view of the audience upstage centre can become distracting with much of the action played centre stage, and the furniture (the chairs and swing, looking suspiciously as though they had come directly from the garden section of B and Q) does present some awkwardness for the actors at times as they are constantly having to arrange and re-arrange them into various configurations which can slow down the action. The ending needs to be a happier occasion for Mr Knightley and Emma - the stage picture with the cast playing their instruments appeared too gloomy. Not a smile from any of the characters at what should have a joyous conclusion. It might have been an idea to have introduced Mr Woodhouse at the end also for his reaction to Emma's marriage to Mr Knightley and the offer of reassurance that the newly-weds would be residing with him and not at Donwell Abbey. The largely female audience at the Grand Theatre, Lancaster, however, from their reaction, was totally swept along by the production. Assured performances, a clear narrative, humour, a degree of inventiveness and Austen's characters, wit and irony all successfully captured.

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