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Review: Persuasion at the Genesian Theatre

Updated: Jul 3, 2019

By Guy Webster

It’s hard to imagine a venue better suited to a staging of an Austen novel than the Genesian

Theatre. For 65 years the Genesian has been operating and it is this history that emboldens

their most recent venture: an adaptation of Jane Austen’s final novel, Persuasion. In

adapting the novel for the stage, Tim Luscombe had a difficult task ahead of him – the

careful eye of the Austen fanbase can be particularly unforgiving. Thankfully, Austen’s

writing loses little of its clarity and wit when staged, and director Trudy Ritchie shows a

commitment to letting the original text shine.

The play follows Anne Elliot (played by Rose Treloar), a 27-year-old Englishwoman who

comes across Navy Captain Frederick Wentworth (played by Kendall Drury) eight years after

refusing his marriage proposal. Elliot spends the rest of the play navigating the return of

Wentworth and the romantic inclinations she feels towards him still. Framing this marriage

plot – one of Austen’s best – are a myriad of secondary characters that fill the piece with

humour and sharp social critique.

In a perfect nod to the feminist undercurrents of Austen’s bibliography, the play rests almost

entirely on the capable shoulders of its female cast. As Mary Musgrove, Angela Johnston

holds the audience in the palm of her hand, landing each comedic moment with a deftness

perfectly matched to the nuances of every Austenian witticism. Rose Treloar draws us into

Anne’s measured sensibility and inner turmoil with empathy and subtlety. Her more joyous

moments – a pantomimed rain sequence was a particular highlight – were incredibly

engrossing. There were notable performances from the men in the form of Nick Fitzsimmons

as Charles Musgrove (a perfect match to Johnston’s repartee) and Vitas Varnas, who

introduced flourishes well-suited to the unlikeable William Elliot. But overall, there was a

diversity of accents (or a lack there of), especially among the men, that seemed at odds with

the realism prioritised by set and costume choices.

The set itself, at least the staple fixture at the back of the stage, was a confusing piece that

couldn’t quite be placed in the 19 th century setting. The stage appeared at its best when it

was used sparingly, giving the actors ample room to move and a space to fill. It was a

shame to see the natural features of the Genesian underused as the historical bent of the

venue was a perfect complement to the piece. Relying more on the site might’ve also helped

to avoid the recurring dead space that featured between scene transitions. These transitions

were often filled with overbearing sound bites and the clear sound of rusted wheels being

pushed on stage. I acknowledge the difficulty of staging a period piece for an amateur

production but the issues here rest more in how the set pieces were used - or misused -

rather than there being a need for more extravagant, period-appropriate pieces.

Overall, Persuasion at the Genesian Theatre is at its best when it lets Austen’s writing shine.

Inconsistent accents and burdensome set pieces are easy to forget when the actors –

especially the female cast – are given the space to fill Austen’s words with the humour and

strength they carry with them even now.

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All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.


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