Jane Austen is unquestionably one of the pre-eminent authors in the gamut of fine literature. Her astute observations of society, witty dialogue and heraldry of colourful characters make her novels a joy to read. That the action almost always predominantly takes place in a room with minimal change of settings makes the books seem readily adaptable for stage.
Playwright Pamela Whalan certainly believes so – this is her fifth Austen adaptation and all have been performed at her old directorial haunt, The Genesian Theatre.
As with many of Austen’s novels, this one has a female central character. Emma is a restless, imprudent, upper class women of twenty, whose misgiven faith in her instincts combined with her inherent snobbery and guileless good intentions result in nothing but awkward situations and near misses.
Emma Wright – a seasoned performer with the company – is simply riveting in the title role. She has an energy and mastery that holds the audience completely in her thrall. It makes her influence over her best friend, Harriet (Kathryn Hutchins) all the more credible. Hutchins plays the meek and compliant Harriet as part willing participant, part gullible victim allowing just enough room for sympathy.
Nathan Bennett is a very austere, judicious Mr Knightly, watchful and critical of Emma, waiting for her inevitable epiphany.
Dimitri Armatas as Mr Elton,Turea Blyth as Miss Bates and Grace Swadling as Mrs Elton provide comic caricature, with the rest of the cast all adding texture and range.
The set design reaches for realism and is quite effective.
It’s an advantage to come to this play with some familiarity of the novel or of Austen’s writing. Whalan has clearly sought to retain much of the original material in her transcription which unfortunately results in some very long convoluted speeches and lots of detail.
But there are plenty of laughs… Still not sure about that red velvet dress, though.
Until Aug 19, Fri & Sat 7:30pm; Sun 4:30pm. The Genesian Theatre, 420 Kent St, Sydney, $25-30. Tickets & Info: www.genesiantheatre.com.au
Reviewed by Rita Bratovich.