Review – Mansfield Park

November 6, 2013 | By More

✭✭✭✩✩   Satisfactory adaptation

King’s Theatre
Tues 5 – Sat 9 November 2013

Solid if ultimately unspectacular, Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds’ adaptation of Mansfield Park provides quality entertainment even if it never really hits the heights.

Pete Ashmore as Edmund Bertram and Ffion Jolly as Fanny Price. Production photo

Pete Ashmore as Edmund Bertram and Ffion Jolly as Fanny Price.

Writer Tim Luscombe has cut elements of Jane Austen’s book judiciously, removing some characters and requiring the cast to take on two or even three roles, but what remains is faithful enough to the original to pacify the most rabid Austenite – which may be part of the problem.

The story of how the wealthy Bertrams take in their poorer relation Fanny Price, and how she goes from being looked down upon to being a valued member of the household, is neither particularly surprising nor particularly theatrical.

There are two main problems with the central character of Fanny that any adaptation has to face. The first is that she does not really do very much; her main role in the story is to observe the excesses and foibles of others, which is not very dramatic.

The second problem is that, to modern audiences, her high-minded morality and self-denying insistence on decorum can make her appear insufferably pious and irritating. Ffion Jolly, in this unforgiving role, does the best that she can but she still fails fully to engage our sympathies.

Fanny’s cousin Edmund, her only ally among her cousins to begin with, is an equally mystifying character to many; Pete Ashmore strives valiantly to make him worthy of Fanny’s adoration, but in the end he still comes across as something of a self-denying, self-deluding milksop.

Among the other members of the cast, Geoff Arnold stands out, giving clear definition to each of his roles of the dissolute Tom Bertram, the upstanding William (Fanny’s beloved brother) and, most notably, the foolish Mr Rushworth. Eddie Eyre manages to be both charming and repellent as the amoral Henry Crawford, although there is a tendency to push the portrayal towards caricature.

There is still a good deal of social satire here

Julie Teal, as Fanny’s repellent aunt Mrs Norris, perhaps goes too far the other way, giving what is probably Austen’s most horrendous character a touch of humour. Similarly, Laura Doddington’s tremendous timing means that the snobbish, conniving, hypocritical Mary Crawford is the funniest thing in the show, and more sympathetic than she probably should be as a result – certainly she seems far more fun than the supposed heroes.

The main problem of any theatrical version of Austen is that so much her work is internal, and the conventional plots are far from being the most important part of the books. While there is still a good deal of social satire here, much of it is sacrificed in order to keep the story moving.

Colin Blumeneau’s direction is brisk and imaginative, making good use of Kit Surrey’s deconstructed-bandstand set, but the balance of the two acts is not quite right; the first half has too much exposition, and the second act has too much crammed into too small a space.

Perhaps there should have been a more drastic cutting of the book – already one of the Bertram siblings is missing, and their mother is reduced to an offstage running joke, so it is perhaps unnecessary to show us Fanny’s family the Prices. The contrast this gives us is already implicit in the story, and it seems mainly designed to give the cast an opportunity to play roles which contrast with their primary ones.

In the end, the concentration on plot at the expense of some of the depths of the story means that it is all a little frothy when it should be barbed. Which makes for a curious flatness to the production; it is all very functional, and entirely satisfactory, but it never really takes flight.

Running time 2 hrs 35 mins
Run ends Saturday 9 November 2013, touring
Evenings 7.30 pm, Matinee Wed and Sat 2.30 pm
King’s Theatre, 2 Leven Street EH3 9LQ
Tickets from www.edtheatres.com

ENDS

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