Friday, 14 December 2018

Miss Austen’s wit wins the day

WHEN writing Emma, Jane Austen admitted to creating “a heroine whom no one but [herself] will

WHEN writing Emma, Jane Austen admitted to creating “a heroine whom no one but [herself] will much like”.

This was certainly achieved by theatre company Hotbuckle Productions, whose adaptation was shown at the Kenton last week.

Emily Lockwood, as Emma Woodhouse, translated the character’s self-righteous desire to meddle and match-make to the stage, and thus drove the consequential events with authenticity.

Her subtle eye-rolling and a near-constant expression of superiority were particularly irritating, though thankfully not to a point of hatred.

Although her character’s perceptions were so often inaccurate, Lockwood managed to portray Emma’s good intentions. So yes, as Austen intended, she was not likeable, but she was at least tolerable.

For those unfamiliar with the story, the basis of Emma is its protagonist interfering in other’s love lives, causing havoc, and much like any Jane Austen novel, realising the error of her ways.

Austen’s involvement of numerous characters can make the novel a challenge to follow. The same overwhelming list of names is present in Hotbuckle’s production, and yet they succeeded in drawing attention to the important ones, making its progression much more readily comprehensible.

More impressive is that this was accomplished by a cast of just four. Besides Lockwood, who remained as Emma throughout, the company of actors took it upon themselves to multi-role, constantly switching between characters.

The distinction between roles was obvious and skilful, with the actors highlighting each change by altering their voice and posture. Of particular merit was Clare Harlow, whose various voices were so diverse that you could almost believe an entirely new actor had stepped on to the stage.

If the actors themselves weren’t enough, visual reminders proved a clear, simple way to demonstrate the character changes. Though at times the play lost focus, and perhaps could’ve benefited from being slightly shorter, one thing cannot be denied — it was funny.

The combination of a witty script, a little bit of melodrama and a lot of comedic timing had the audience chuckling throughout — and I’m quite sure that everyone left smiling.

It’s true: Emma may not be a play to remain etched in my memory for years to come, but it was worth it for entertainment of watching tall middle-aged men in white lace bonnets, simpering about potential engagements over tea and cake.

Indeed, its simple humour is where its value lies.

Review: Amy Nicholas

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