Thanks to the New Theatre, Cardiff for inviting us along to see the show in exchange for this review.
Presented by Chamber Opera Tours Jane Austen’s Persuasion, A Musical Drama has been adapted by Barbara Landis to include a musical twist.
With a storyline very true to the style of Jane Austen this musical performance, based on her final novel ‘Persuasion’, follows Anne Elliot and her reunion with a past lover, Captain Frederick Wentworth with injection of operatic singing throughout.
The performance includes music selected by the adapter Barbara Landis, who has chosen some of her favourite pieces, as well as those from the Chawton House Museum’s collection of Jane Austen’s personal manuscripts. The music included in the performance consists of the work of Beethoven, Handel, and Haydn as well as a range of lesser known composers.
Throughout the performance Barbara Landis (Anne Elliot), transforms into Jane Austen to narrate the story and provide more detail about the previous or upcoming scene. This style resonates with the original novel and way of storytelling by Jane Austen.
Anne Elliot, the second daughter to Sir Walter Elliot, Baronet of Kellynch Hall is described as being close to entering “the danger years”, she is unmarried and described as being of noble character. Many years previous she found herself in love and engaged to Frederick Wentworth, this engagement was called off after her godmother persuaded her that he was not a suitable match due to his lack of fortune and social stature.
When Sir Walter Elliot find himself in financial ruin, he is forced to let Kellynch Hall out and the most suitable tenant is found to be Admiral Croft whose wife is Caption Frederick Wentworth’s sister. As Anne is sent to stay with her hypochondriac sister in her husband, Charles Musgrove’s, family home Caption Frederick Wentworth visits his sister, having risen several ranks since his romantic relationship with Anne. The two are reunited and Caption Wentworth has no kind feeling towards Anne and becomes close with sisters Henrietta and Louisa Musgrove.
As the performance progresses, Anne becomes close with Captain Benwick, a naval man introduced to her by a friend of Captain Wentworth, Louisa Musgrove suffers a head injury and the second act begins.
In the second act Anne’s estranged cousin, Mr William Elliot, who made his admiration for Anne clear in the previous trip to Lyme visits the Elliot family in Bath. Will Anne accept an engagement to Mr William Elliot whose intentions are not all honest? Will Anne and Captain Wentworth encounter each other again? If so, will they remain friends or rekindle their romance? As the second act moves forward these are questions the audience and Jane Austen’s niece and nephew, whom she’s telling the story to, will soon have answered.
Act two welcomes a scene in which Viscountess Lady Dalrymple and her daughter, the Honourable Miss Carteret, who are visiting the Elliot family in Bath, sing together in an operatic style whilst also trying to out-sing each other. This creates an incredibly comedic scene with not only the audience in fits of laughter but with some of their fellow actors also struggling to stop themselves from breaking character and laughing.
The unexpected, yet pleasant inclusion of Irish dancing by characters in the Navy stayed true to the era in which the play was set, as many Irishmen fought in the British Navy during the Napoleonic Wars. This dancing was an uplifting addition to the performance and spread smiles throughout the audience with many bobbing their heads to the music.
Having enjoyed various traditional Italian operas in the past, when I heard the musical element to this performance would be operatic I was surprised to hear the performers singing in English which, of course, follows the very English style of Jane Austen and was a great way to add to the story and include more detail about characters and the storyline.
If you are familiar with Jane Austen or her work this is a must see, or, if you fancy trying something new this performance will not disappoint. The programme provided gives background on each character and the story to ensure you’re fully immersed in the performance and can understand the characters intentions and actions.
Jane Austen’s Persuasion, A Musical Drama is currently touring and has previously been performed in New Theatre Royal Portsmouth and will move on to Palace Theatre Paignton on August 7 where they will perform for one night.