Persuasion Review

The Rosemary Branch Theatre 4 – 22 May.  Reviewed by Claire Roderick

Bryony J. Thompson has done it again. 200 years after Jane Austen completed Persuasion, Thompson’s adaptation condenses the novel into a short but very sweet production.

Anne Elliot, persuaded by her family to end her engagement to Frederick Wentworth because of his lack of status and wealth, is reintroduced to him nearly 8 years later, when his sister becomes tenant at her family home. Against a backdrop of family gatherings and outings, Anne and Wentworth cannot politely avoid each other, and eventually she begins to hope that he still has feelings for her.

There is a lot of toing and froing in this story, but Thompson’s adaptation sets out the events clearly and cleverly. The cast of six carry the narrative style admirably, and speaking in the third person continues the illusion of a book brought to wonderful life. Sticking to the clean lines of her Jane Eyre, Thompson’s set is simple, with a plain hessian backdrop, white props and white costumes. You don’t really notice any of this after a while, you can’t take your eyes off the actors.

Rose McPhilemy is sublime as Anne – stoic and sensible, but with a bubbling undercurrent of suppressed humour – her long suffering smiles at the audience as the sillier characters do their stuff are delightful. Philip Honeywell’s Wentworth is dashing and makes you question Anne’s sanity at giving him up. His awkward smiles/grimaces around her melt subtly into true smiles as the play goes on, and when he reads THAT love letter… Their wonderful chemistry keeps a frisson of tension, even as dizzier characters take centre stage. The rest of the cast take multiple roles, but my favourite moments were when they acted as Anne and Wentworth’s internal voices, debating their feelings and decisions much more interestingly than a straight monologue. That being said, they were all great in their other roles! Charles Musgrove becomes a period version of Tim Nice-But-Dim in Adam Elliot’s comedic hands, and Tom Hartwell brings Admiral Croft to booming life but shows a more subtle touch with Captain Harville. Sarita Plowman and Beatrice Rose perform similar vocal tricks to distinguish their characters. Plowman makes Mrs Clay all blinks and faux girlish giggles, changing to a deep honey toned voice for the matriarchal Lady Russell, and Rose’s Mary is a hoot – squealing and hyperventilating, even her walk is funny.

Although concise, this gorgeous production remains true to Austen’s book, and is full of wit, charm and romance. If Bryony J Thompson could work her way through all of Austen and the Brontes please, that would be lovely.