Persuasion, Arts University Bournemouth students at Pavilion Dance

IF you want a career in theatre, never forget that old adage “the show must go on.”

It’s an enduring truth and never more so than for the cast of the Arts University Bournemouth’s production of Persuasion, staged at Pavilion Dance from 30th January to 1st February.

Helen Watts, artistic director and co-founder of Dorset Corset, had been invited to direct a show for the BA Hons Acting students, for whom the project counts in the final assessments. With a large company, the facilities of the Pavilion Dance acting space and the various AUB courses at her disposal, and after a lengthy search, Helen decided to rework the small-cast adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion she had made for Dorset Corset in 2006.

Casting was completed, with a speaking cast of 15, and rehearsals began. But three weeks before the show was due to open, one of the cast, David Walsh, was found dead in his student digs.

Everyone knew that the young actor would have wanted the show to go on, and so it did … and triumphantly.

The clever set (by Rhyannan Hall) allowed back projections, reference to Lyme Regis Cobb, street scenes in Bath, grand country houses and more, and encouraged the actors to embody the fluidly moving and energetic interpretations of Helen Watts and her choreographer Claire Camble-Hutchins.

There were memorable moments when the cast changed from the realistic to the caricature, bringing Austen’s subtext into brilliant relief.

Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth’s love was never in doubt, but between the bustlingly interfering Lady Russell (Jocelyn Aveyard), Anne’s sisters – the selfish Elizabeth (Hannah Locket) and the preposterously hypochondriac Mary (the hilarious Sophie Oliver) – and her snobbish, vain and spendthrift father Sir Walter (a terrific performance by Ben Simmonds), the course of their love was anything but smooth.

Jilted, the impecunious Wentworth goes off to sea, where he makes his fortune, and when he returns years later, he’s a much better prospect.

The company captures the swirling life of fashionable Bath, the excitement and danger of playing on the shore, the danger of taking people at face value.

Francis Ryder has just the right balance of pride and suppressed passion as Wentworth and Hollie Briggs the intelligent determination of the third daughter, Anne. Callum McKeith is a loveably convincing Charles Musgrove.

This is an ensemble piece, and the company worked wonderfully together, in the face of great emotional difficulties, to produce a show of which they should all be very proud.



The performances of Persuasion were dedicated to the memory of David Walsh.

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