AS we near the bicentenary of Jane Austen’s death, various celebrations of her life and work are being held around the country, and one of her greatest stage adaptors, Tim Luscombe, has turned his attention to the novel Emma, with its heroine whom Austen described as “someone who no-one other than myself will much like.”
The headstrong Emma has her own very selfish take on the lives of those around her. She doesn’t intend to marry, and she sees her role as an insightful and skilled matchmaker. But she’s young, and she’s often mistaken.
Luscombe’s version, directed by Colin Blumenau for The Production Exchange, is touring the UK and at Bath Theatre Royal this week. The city has strong Austenian links, so it’s the ideal venue.
Libby Watson’s set, a tilted circle enclosing a room which must be accessed by un-hatching the sides of the circle, looks attractive. It also provides a promenade for the action, notably the “big idea” of running the romance of Frank Churchill and Jane Fairfax right through the action. The importance of the audience/reader seeing this sub-plot through the eyes of Emma is thus lost.
Of necessity there are various doublings up for this nine-strong company playing 14 roles. After the interval the pace increased, and by the final curtain the characters had won affection from the audience.
I longed for some variation in the tone of the women’s voices, a more stream -of-consciousess delivery from Miss Bates (one of Austen’s greatest comic creations) and a clearer approach to the core of the original story.
Photograph by Mark Douet