Theatre Review: PERSUASION – Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

PERSUASION - Royal Exchange Theatre

PERSUASION is a fresh, bold and enjoyable reinterpretation of Austen’s final masterpiece

Following the bold reinterpretation of Aeschylus’s THE SUPPLIANT WOMAN, Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre’s Spring/Summer season continues to reshape and breathe new life into classic texts with its latest production of Jane Austen’s PERSUASION.

Written by Austen 1817, PERSUASION tells the story of the young Anne Elliot, who lost her chance at love when her family persuaded her to refuse an offer of marriage by the dashing – yet penniless – young naval officer Wentworth. Eight years later, Wentworth is back and is now rich, successful and still single. When circumstances bring the two face to face again, Anne is forced to confront the past. But as old wounds reopen, will Wentworth’s resentment keep him away and will Anne finally decide what she really wants?

Adapted for stage by dramaturg James Yeatman and young theatre maker Jeff James, who also directs the production, this bold retelling of Austen’s final masterpiece is like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Engaging, humourous and startlingly contemporary, this innovative production is best described as a modern day romcom than a period drama. The bonnets, costumes and trappings of formal period life have been discarded to hone in on the characters and the story, resulting in a humorous and relatable love story for grown-ups, which retains the sharp observation and quick wit of Austen’s original book.

Alex Lowde’s simple yet effective contemporary set perfectly complements Lucy Carter’s lighting design which makes the most of the Exchange’s intimate in-the-round setting to focus in on Anne’s innermost thoughts. Ben and Max Ringham’s music and sound design is also excellent, swapping the formal music of the era with contemporary dance.

Lara Rossi as and Samuel Edward-Cook both deliver a strong performance as the heroine Anne and as Captain Wentworth and their chemistry on stage is undeniable. Helen Cripps and Dorian Simpson also shine as the bickering married couple Mary and Charles. But the best of the humour comes from Cassie Layton and Caroline Moroney as sisters Louisa and Henrietta, with their synchronised pop-dance routine in particular standing out as a highlight.

While the contemporary twists James brings this production, notably the sexed up relationships between the couples and the implied lesbian relationship between Penelope and Elizabeth, may not appeal to traditional Austen fans, there is plenty to like about this production. In fact, the only real disappointment is the ending, which is a little anti-climactic and tinged with uncertainty.

Whether you’re a fan of Austen’s work or not, you’re sure to enjoy this production of PERSUASION. A fresh, bold and enjoyable reinterpretation of Austen’s final masterpiece that’s well worth a watch.

4 out of 5 stars

PERSUASION runs at the Royal Exchange Theatre until 24 June 2017.