‘Quite how to distinguish the proper from the improper is all to do.’
“We are now returning to Edinburgh to get some preferment in the Acting way.” From Love and Friendship (1790) by Jane Austen.
The Vault in Merchant Street is a good venue for Tales of Correction. It is hard by the garage of the Edinburgh Sheriff Court where prison vans deliver and collect. As it happens, and an awful lot does happen in these two short plays, the feckless, unfortunate Augustus in Love and Friendship does time in Newgate before being thrown out of an overturned carriage – and dying.
This Charlotte Productions double bill is a preview of the ‘project’ that this strong student born company is taking to the Jane Austen Festival in Bath in September where it is bound to be well received as both literary exercise and imaginative response.
Mansfield Presents is first on. We are in a cosy ‘back-stage’, back parlour space during on-off rehearsals of Lovers’ Vows, the actual society theatrical within-the-novel. As in Austen’s story, Fanny Price has a lot of needle-work to do and exactly as on-the-page(s) she has the admirable intelligence to stay quiet as all around her sound off. The red velveteen curtain is hung and the characters that matter are in place, costumes are just so, Rushworth’s sword has gone missing, and Maria is swooning over Henry Crawford. Edmund will, for sure, love Fanny and she him, but not yet. For the time being all the talk is of sexy subterfuge and Lovers’ Vows and of those related, tantalising questions: is it suitable for a private party (when ladies are present) and how does true delicacy show itself? Quite how to distinguish the proper from the improper is all to do.
Florence Bedell-Brill as Fanny is a study in self-possession; James Stewart, in wonderful voice as Mr Crawford, is the perfect gentleman for 1800, at least in her presence. Grace Knight as Mary Crawford provides the ringlets, wit and the fun whilst James Beagon and Jess Flood, as Edmund and Maria Bertram, embody good sense and trembling sensibility respectively. Leaving George Selwyn Sharpe – there’s a Regency name for you – as the loud buffoon in a cloak, which he inhabits handsomely.
The second play, Love and Friendship, with the same six actors, is writer Laura Witz’s adaptation of the 14 year old Austen’s parody of the sentimental novel. It is a glad, ludicrous and enjoyable piece where the broad comedy is still clever and effective. A melancholy cello plays on (ironically) while costumes change with bewildering speed from out of a suitcase and James Stewart, as an elm tree, sways in the wind that is George Selwyn Sharpe. Jess Flood narrates throughout and conveys just the right touch of wonder, incredulity and hand over breast excitement. Now it is Florence Bedell-Brill’s turn to swoon, which she does splendidly, taking Grace Knight down with her. James Beagon manages the rare double-act of coachman and pawing horse.
The two Tales of Correction are in order (i) heady, as in Think About This, because you should; and (ii) headlong, as in “Whoa!”, the wheels could come off. Well, they don’t because the direction, also by Laura Witz, is secure and the performances stay together.
Perhaps a young woman could review the plays in Bath. Laurie Penny would be my choice, echoing Edmund’s question in Chapter 15 of Mansfield Park, “But what do you do for women?”
Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 1 June)
Visit about Charlotte Productions here.