BACK in the early 1980s, Declan Donnelley wrote a brilliantly updated version of Thackeray’s classic Vanity Fair for his company, Cheek by Jowl.
The adaptation has been brought into the new century by Paul Chesterton for the students of Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, on their (shortened) two-part regional tour this year.
On Wednesday 6th July the show came to the David Hall in South Petherton, and as the extraordinary young cast sang the opening song, with its lyric “Are you sure you want to see, the face of human vanity?”, Boris Johnson was in Downing Street, adding up his dwindling supporters. It seemed like being in just the right place at the right time.
Set in the New Romantics era, with its music pounding out, a group of young people set about telling the story of Vanity Fair, changing characters and costumes during the proceedings to add to the fun. It always was a brilliant conceit, and this group of trainee actors, out on their first public tour before an intensive final year of performances, did what is now called “embracing” the chance with chutzpah, energy, discipline and huge skill. It is a delight.
The BOVTS regional tour is always an ensemble show, but at South Petherton it was even more so, as two young actors stood in at the last moment for their indisposed colleagues. They would be reading from the script, a programme note told the audience … but they didn’t. All praise to Tommy Bell for a brilliantly funny cameo of the aged Sir Pitt Crawley.
It is very difficult to name individual performances as each member of the company plays several characters from Thackeray’s swirling dissection of manners, aspiration, snobbery and an English class system that neither Margaret Thatcher nor her lite successor Tony Blair can make disappear.
What this production vividly demonstrates is that the more it changes, the more it stays the same.
Well done to Conor Doran, Kurtis Thompson, Sophie Charlton and Anna Murphy, Gaia Ashwood, and to all the rest of the cast. I am so looking forward to seeing them all in the coming year in Bristol, and hopefully for many years to come on stages and screens around the country and beyond.
See Arts Diary for further dates.