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REVIEW: Jane Austen and the Cheltonians at Museum in the Park
A review of Natura Contemporary Theatre’s Jane Austen and the Cheltonians
Written and directed by Caroline Summerfield
14 th September 2019 @2:00pm, Museum in the Park, Stroud (as part of Stroud Theatre Festival)
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a regular theatregoer in possession of Jane Austen’s novels must be in want of a good Jane Austen play – and Natura Theatre Company’s production of Jane Austen and the Cheltonians did not disappoint!
This award-winning two-woman play, written and directed by Caroline Summerfield and performed by Abigail Halley (as seen in Random Acts on Channel Four) and Lynn Thomas (as seen in Doctors on BBC TV) was inspired by Jane Austen’s renowned novel Emma, alongside her visit to Cheltenham at the centenary of the town. The story follows Jane Austen and her friend Eloisa Fairweather devising the sequel to Emma, in which the famed literary heroine once again gives in to matchmaking temptation, meeting characters old and new and encountering a number of charming mishaps along the way!
The play’s venue could not have been more apt for this performance. Walking through Stroud’s park to reach the museum – which in itself looked like a manor out of a Jane Austen film adaptation! – set the mood perfectly for the performance to come, as did the room in which the performance was given. The set was simple but elegant, making use of the room’s historical features and minimal period decorations and props. The set was nicely complimented by the costumes, both of which were period accurate, aesthetically pleasing, and well suited to the performers and the central characters they portrayed.
The play itself was written very much in the voice and spirit of Jane Austen. It contained a lovely level of light-hearted humour – particularly in reference to Jane Austen’s views of society at the time, her infamous dislike of Bath, and of course, Cheltenham – and truly paid homage to her storytelling style. Both performers wholly embodied the Jane Austen spirit, too; Abigail Halley portrayed the characters of Jane Austen, Emma Knightly, and Captain Marsh with gusto and panache, while Lynn Thomas gave a warm and elegant performance as Eloisa Fairweather, Harriet Smith, and other ladies of society within the play.
What felt unusual about this piece was that both performers held their scripts in large folders for the duration. This did sometimes hinder their multi-rolling efforts, as they were unable to make full use of gesture and posture for characterisation. There were also moments of visible difficulty when using the props as a result of holding the scripts.
However, some excellent voice work – including the use of different accents and languages – and a wide variety of facial expressions were used well by both performers to portray their many different characters. Overall, Jane Austen and the Cheltonians was a delightful, witty, and enthusiastic celebration of Jane Austen, and I would highly recommend that fans of the author make the trip to see it when it comes to The Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham between 6 th and 8 th February 2020.
Review written by KP
The Mystery Reviewer
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