Mansfield Park

Jane Austen, adapted by Tim Luscombe
Two Bit Classics & Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds
Grand Theatre, Blackpool

Pete Ashmore and Ffion Jolly in Mansfield Park

With an acute sense of time and place, due largely to a simple yet highly effective set design, this is a thoroughly engaging stage adaptation of Jane Austen’s most multi-layered of novels.

It’s direct from the authentic Regency surrounds of Bury St Edmunds Theatre Royal and transfers smoothly into an 11-date touring production.

Writer Tim Luscombe’s version of the book, coupled with Colin Blumenau’s nimble direction of his cast of eight, tends to concentrate on the romantic merry-go-round at Mansfield Park, rather than some of the deeper themes.

Indeed in the swiftness with which some lovelorn characters make their stage entrances and exits there are moments when it could all become a Regency-period speed-dating night.

The pace never slows in more than two and a half hours of well-executed drama. It all makes the most of Kit Surrey’s elegant stage set, and a lighting design, from Matthew Eagland, that picks out a series of painted miniatures.

Without the book’s narration by the central character Fanny Price, the adaptation relies on added dialogue for those around her, but loses nothing of the story’s eye for moral judgment, or of the sense of social change.

This reversal of the story-telling structure actually allows several of the cast to bring more depth to a succession of what are often regarded as shallow characters.

In their doubling and even tripling up of a score of roles they deliver a series of distinct personalities, especially Geoff Arnold as the dissolute Tom Bertram, distant Mr Rushworth and dashing William Price. At one point two of his characters are summoned together—fortunately for him only one turns up.

Ffion Jolly manages to make much more of Ms Price than a mute cipher; Julie Teal laps up the comedic put-downs of Mrs Norris; Pete Ashmore, Laura Doddington and Eddie Eyre are a triptych of romantic losers; and Richard Heap, a familiar presence and voice in productions hereabouts, makes a commanding Sir Thomas.

A quality production that mixes frivolity and morality to make entertaining theatre.

Reviewer: David Upton

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