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Jane Austen's Persuasion: A New Musical Drama
The Shaw Theatre
31st July 2017

★★★★☆

Publicity image for Jane Austen's Persuasion: A New Musical Drama

Photography provided by Chamber Opera Tours

Although one-night shows often sell well due to the classic London FOMO, Jane Austen's Persuasion: A Musical Drama is the first show in any year's Camden Fringe to result in any of us having to queue outside the building. The room was absolutely packed and the Shaw Theatre is hardly a small venue. So, a word of warning: if you see anything by Chamber Opera Tours, arrive early!

Evidently, opera and Jane Austen make for a popular combination among Londoners. This isn't a traditional opera; songs (performed in English) intersperse the dialogue between characters and the narration from Jane Austen (Barbara Landis), who recounts the story to her niece and nephew, Cassandra (Karissa Burkhardt) and Charles (Brandon Burkhardt). Landis (who also plays protagonist Anne Elliot) wrote this adaptation and chose the accompanying music herself. It's clear that a lot of thought and love went into this. The main theme is based on Corelli's Sonata La Folia in d minor, Opus 5, No 12, with supporting pieces chosen from Austen's personal manuscripts at Chawton House Museum. We do get to hear a bit of classical operatic Italian though when the characters go to an opera themselves, which I found a nice touch.

If you're not familiar with the novel, the plot revolves around Anne and her hidden love for Captain Frederick Wentworth (Jeff Diebold). Anne had previously been involved with Frederick, but was persuaded by her godmother (Maggie Clennon Reberg) to abandon the relationship since he was considered to be of insufficient means and status (because, hey, these things are important). However, it seems that Anne and her godmother made a mistake as Frederick went on to become an affluent and well-respected man. The pair now come face to face again when Anne's father, Sir Walter (John B Boss), lets out his grand home to Admiral Croft (Paul Geiger) whose wife (Christine Steyer) just happens to be Frederick's sister. But, alas, Frederick no longer seems interested in Anne. In typical Jane Austen style, the tale shines a light on the elaborate world of country landowners, wealthy sailors and dating rituals where nobody really says what they are thinking. (Not too different from Tinder then...)

The music is by far the strongest part of the show and we get to enjoy some big numbers, particularly by the multi-talented Landis. We are also treated to Irish dance routines from sailors in the chorus, performed by Kiernan Donahue, Peter Dziak and Ian Schwartz. Sara Stewart Schumann's choreography makes for a real crowd-pleaser and certainly succeeded in raising the energy level in the audience. This is a big production and it is fair to say that it packs a punch. However, not all the acting is up to the same standards as the singing and the British accents can be a bit hit and miss. I think perhaps at times the cast are so focused on getting the singing and movements around the stage right (which they do wonderfully) that they forget to really feel the characters' emotions, though these do come across much more in the singing.

Overall this is an excellent show and I would recommend it to any fan of Austen's work. Sadly though, with this the last stop on the company's worldwide tour, you'll have to wait a while to enjoy another dazzling spectacle from them. If you have any sense, the sensible thing is to watch out for them in 2018.

Jane Austen's Persuasion: A New Musical Drama ran on 31st July 2017 at The Shaw Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: King's Cross St. Pancras (Victoria, Piccadilly, Northern, Circle, Metropolitan, Hammersmith)



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