Mansfield Park

Rating ****
Reviewed by Verity Wilde

Theatre Royal, Northampton
28th October 2013

Mansfield Park is not my favourite of Jane Austen’s works and when I came to re-read it over the weekend I found it heavy going, but this adaptation (a touring production by the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds) is as light as air and speeds by.

When adapting a three volume novel there’s a lot to fit in. Tim Luscombe has cut one Bertram sister from the show and left some characters unseen, to create a play for 8 actors, with all except Ffion Jolly (Fanny) playing more than one role. This is accomplished well (although some accents went astray on occasion) and there was only one scene where I felt absence of a character because of the doubled roles.

Scenes with Fanny’s family appear problematic, not just because some of the actors are playing children, but because the characters don’t seem as fleshed out or as real as the others in places.

Jolly’s Fanny comes into her own in the second half when her character grows a backbone and starts standing up for herself and what she believes. In a role where a lot of the work is done in facial expressions, Jolly manages to convey a full range of emotions and keep the audience’s sympathy, where Fanny could easily have come across as a boring doormat.

Laura Doddington’s Mary Crawford almost steals the show. She is vivacious and fun and it is no surprise that Edmund (Peter Ashmore) falls in love with her – you can almost forgive her the lack of morals that makes her so unsuitable for him. Geoff Arnold has plenty of booming gravitas as Mr Rushworth and Julie Teal’s Mrs Norris is delightfully bitchy as she constantly puts Fanny down and tries to keep her out of any fun or excitement.

There are plenty of laughs in Luscombe’s script and the petty cruelties of Fanny’s life are subtly illustrated. Enough of the dialogue seems to be taken from the novel to make the play seem like a familiar friend.

The minimalist set works well and a lot of attention has been played to the nuances in the costuming. The morally dubious Crawfords have the brightest colours and all the glitter, whilst steadfast and honest Fanny barely changes outfits (the only glittering she does is when Edmund smiles at her).

This is a really well executed production and it sat well in the Royal where it was warmly received.