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The Letters of Jane Austen
Published on Saturday, 18 August 2012
2

2 stars

theSpace @ Surgeons Hall (venue website)
Theatre
3-4, 6-11, 13-18 Aug, 5:10pm-5:55pm
Reviewed by Jane Bristow

 Family-friendly. Suitable for all ages.
 Free and unticketed. No pre-booking required.

Whilst many people may be familiar with the novels of Jane Austen, her private life is less known. Aside from the film Becoming Jane, for the most part she’s been left as the creator of Mr Darcy. So I was interested to see a production which attempts to bring her to life, through her own well-written letters, and intrigued how this would be achieved. Sadly it proved to be an unimaginative interpretation, which never truly did Austen’s voice justice.

The action - for want of a better word - centred around two actors dressed as Jane Austen on a bare stage. Each took turns to read out parts of Austen’s letters written throughout her life. These were interspersed by songs which seemed to have no direct connection to Austen’s life, and their inclusion slightly puzzled me. The songs also seemed to be pitched with little regard to the actors’ vocal abilities, leading at times to an uncomfortably shrill tone.

Although this went on for forty minutes, the format never changed. The production could definitely have used some more daring staging – after all, there is absolute free rein for creativity at the Fringe. The letters deserved to be portrayed with the liveliness that they were written, and not to be dulled down like this.

Having said that, the actors really did work hard to animate their readings, and I thought that they both played Austen well. The material which had been selected also included interesting bits and pieces of gossip from the early 1800s, as well as some detail about Tom Lefroy, a young man who Austen was possibly in love with. But there’s no explanation or context – so if you didn’t know certain things beforehand, you will be none the wiser at the end.

I’m not writing off the letters themselves, just recommending that, if you’re interested, you simply read them. There was nothing truly to take away from The Letters of Jane Austen, except that she was good at writing witty observations about middle class life – which unfortunately just wasn’t enough to keep the audience captivated. I also felt that the production style let down the actors, who could have been allowed to develop their portrayal more. For die hard fans only.

 

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