Austen was performed at theSpace on the Mile.
It’s a difficult task to create and deliver a piece about an historical figure without it becoming a history lesson or a ‘look what we know!’ type of show. Rob Winlow and Bernie Byrnes accomplish this with ease (along with director Matthew Gould). This oblique look at Austen’s life and times is precise, concise and wonderfully brought to life through the cast of four, playing around a dozen characters with a quiet confidence.
The device of moving from the present day to see Jane Austen’s life through the letters and writing being researched by a pair of young students is successful: Annie Kirkman and Mark Gillon set the scene in the here and now as students forming an uneasy partnership. As they ‘become’ Jane Austen and Tom Lefroy, joined by Jane’s parents (Toby Osmond and Patsy Blower), the echoes from the present into the past are convincingly ‘played with’.
A central question set: ‘Were you ever in love or did you only have a romantic heart?’ leads us through Jane’s life and loves. The notion of a woman in her times is explored – a time where women were seen as intellectually inferior to men and certainly not as published authors; a time where women were expected to be practical in matters of love, in terms of ‘improving their station’.
The music composed for the show also has a now and then motif. The singing is spot on: clear, tuneful and revealing more of the characters than words alone could convey.
A genuinely affectionate, gentle and assured production. Totally satisfying.
* Old Hall Theatre