Persuasion Review | Royal Exchange | Manchester
Persuasion (1817) is the last completed novel written by Jane Austin, six months after her death. Reverberating the themes of self-discovery and self-reflection that run throughout her novels, the story follows the struggles of 27-year-old Anne Elliot after a broken engagement to a penniless Fredrick Wentworth.
Seven years have passed since Anne’s engagement and Wentworth has returned a successful and single Captain, whereas Anne remains a loveless spinster. Anne is forced to confront her past when her sister, Elizabeth and father Sir Walter let out their family home and move to Bath to lower their living expenses.
Under the direction of Jeff James, the audience is served up a hip-hop remixing of Austin’s aristocratic society. Pulsating moves, slow-motion dance sequences and a soundtrack that includes an uncensored Azealia Banks, keeps focus on status and wealth with a modernised expression of bad behaviour.
Alongside the switching of the piano for Nicki Minaj, designer, Alex Lowde has created a transformative stage within The Exchange. By using a tall, rectangular platform that is intensely lit for the characters, audiences from every angle are engulfed in Anne’s world. Anne (Lara Rossi) physically pushes characters off stage and covers their mouths showing her complete discontent. It is not until Anne and Wentworth’s paths cross that the stage twists in the middle, spreading out into a criss-cross that encompasses the space of The Round.
With upper crust parties wonderfully rewritten into raves and a trip to Lyme culminating in foam flowing from the ceiling, the production's costumes were also perfectly updated for the times. The bonnets and bowties are exchanged for dainty slips over white tees, except for Anne’s slighted sister, Mary Musgrove (Helen Cripps) and her husband Charles (Dorian Simpson) whose council estate attire comprised of a tracksuit and scraped back scrunchie hairdo, shows a woman eager to climb the social ladder.
This domestic comedy includes a fantastic cast, where all but Samuel Edward-Cook (Captain Wentworth) and Rossi, play characters that are basically doubles of themselves. Cassie Layton (Elizabeth and Louisa) and Caroline Moroney (Mrs. Clay/ Henrietta) take a moment to playfully rate the beauty of their dulling counterparts and Simpson’s Lady Russell is simply hilarious. This is an endlessly entertaining production and a fitting tribute to Austin that upholds her impressions of love and independence for a new generation of heroines.