THE stage is set with piles of books, on the floor and suspended from the “ceiling” and they are the only props in this inventive telling of Trollope’s novel Lady Anna and how it came to be written on board the SS Great Britain en route from Liverpool to Australia.
Anthony Trollope’s anniversary in 2015 led to a number of theatre and television productions of his work, and inspired this Colin Blumenau creation, which sets the themes of the book – social distinctions, contested wills and the subsequent litigation and child and parental conflict – within the relationships that grew up between passengers on the long voyage .
The writer and his protective wife were travelling with a maid to see their son in Australia, and Trollope impetuously gave a part of his daily manuscript to the maid to read, much to the fury of his wife. An American, who conspicuously mispronounced his name, held forth with her opinions about how his story might progress.
And all the while in Trollope’s mind, and on nine new pages every day, the heiress Lady Anna fought her mother for the right to marry the man of her choice – a mere tailor – and her mother The Countess fought through the courts for her daughter’s rightful inheritance.
Performed by a multi-talented cast of seven, the production is a delight and an introduction to an unfamiliar Trollope novel, but it doesn’t bear too close scrutiny as the “real” characters are caricatures.
The countess is a truly dreadful character, an amplification of many of the writer’s famous snobs. Who could blame the Earl of Lovell for his treatment of her?
Each performer takes dual and sometimes triple roles, jumping from accent to accent with the same gusto as jumping between stepping stone books. It’s an ensemble piece, with Jonathan Keeble as the writer and his reasonable lawyer, Maggie O’Brien as his wife and The Countess, the fervent Simon Robinson as Daniel and Rhiannon Handy as Lady Anna and the maid outstanding.