SIDMOUTH – SIDMOUTH SUMMER PLAY FESTIVAL
MANOR PAVILION THEATRE
JANE AUSTEN’S EMMA adapted by Tim Luscombe
2 hours 30 minutes – 1 interval
Manor Pavilion Theatre Box Office – 01395 514413
REVIEW – CORMAC RICHARDS – 25 JULY 2022
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen is still enormously popular. Adaptations for film, television and theatre abound with versions of her novels and pseudo-versions appearing regularly. It is a delight, therefore, to witness Tim Luscombe’s lucid and pacey version of ‘EMMA’ which takes us to the half way point in the Sidmouth Summer Play Festival – it continues from 8 August until 17 September – www.manorpavilion.com .
So, what to make of this tale of Emma Woodhouse, a good-intentioned young matchmaker, whose strong views and erroneous advice, causes more than a few issues and leads her to ignore her own self.
Let’s not beat about the bush.
This is an outstanding production.
Andrew Beckett has designed a wonderfully faded neo-classical room which provides a delightful backdrop to all locales both inside and out – it is masterly lit by Jo Underwood. As a play of some thirty scenes, it is vital that there is momentum to a story that is rich in words. Luscombe retains the wit and wisdom of the original, and keeps the story lean and straightforward to follow. This gives the director much work to do and Jason Marc-Williams more than rises to the occasion. The role of the director can often pass unnoticed, but here it is laid out for all to see; the beautiful transitions from scene to scene; the pause of the actors at a scenes end before moving on; perfect music choices; the endless pictures created – often like a series of paintings appearing before us. The direction is exquisite.
The praise continues to the delightful costuming from Janet Huckle which immediately takes you to the period. And, having mentioned the lighting, a word for the technical operator who was spot on with the many cues for lights and sound throughout.
The title role is immense and the success of the production can rest on the actor playing it; Emma is not completely lovable as a character, but she gets there in the end and Emily Louise Connor is simply wonderful. Her performance is drenched in smiles, wide-eyed innocence and knowing glances and achieves the arc the character travels along with ease and with the right amount of emotion when required. She delivers her many lines at speed and you can hear every word. Terrific!
Liv Koplick completely captures the youthful enthusiasm and vigour of Emma’s protégé, Harriet Smith, it is an utterly delightful performance and illicits true sympathy from the audience at the appropriate moments. Thomas Willshire is enchanting in both his roles as the warm-hearted, bluff Mr Woodhouse and the awkward but good-natured Mr Elton. Daniele Coombe proves once again to be masterly when it comes to characterisation and comic timing; as the garrulous Miss Bates she is a typhoon of joy in a world of relative calm.
Charlie Bryant exudes great presence and confidence in his portrayal of the indecisive and rather devious Frank Churchill and Katherine Dodds offers Jane Fairfax great composure in the face of Franks’ behaviour; her cries of desperation are immensely moving.
Jonathan Ray provides the stability that Emma needs as the deeply caring and kind Mr Knightley; it is a performance of warmth and depth. As the ghastly, competitive and self-centred Mrs Elton, Polly Smith is completely memorable, squeezing every ounce of humour from the hideous character.
So much of Austen remains pertinent, not least, in this case, Emma’s outspokenness, which often rings true; hence the continued popularity. The opening night audience reacted with joy from start to finish and were not keen to end their applause; testament to the fact that this is a production to clothe yourself in, to savour and to put the flags out for.
CAST & CREATIVES
EMMA WOODHOUSE – EMILY LOUISE CONNOR
FRANK CHURCHILL – CHARLIE BRYANT
MISS BATES – DANIELE COOMBE
HARRIET SMITH – LIV KOPLICK
MR KNIGHTLEY – JONATHAN RAY
JANE FAIRFAX – KATHERINE DODDS
MR WOODHOUSE/MR ELTON – THOMAS WILLSHIRE
MRS ELTON – POLLY SMITH
WRITER – JANE AUSTEN
ADAPTATION – TIM LUSCOMBE
DIRECTOR – JASON MARC-WILLIAMS
DESIGN – ANDREW BECKETT
LIGHTING & SOUND OPERATION & DESIGN – JO UNDERWOOD
COSTUME SUPERVISOR – JANET HUCKLE
ARTISTIC DIRECTOR – PAUL TAYLOR-MILLS
SEASON PRODUCER – CLAIRE EVANS