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Persuasion review at Rosemary Branch Theatre, London – ‘elegant and eloquent’

The cast of Persuasion at the Rosemary Branch, London. The cast of Persuasion at the Rosemary Branch, London. Photo: Bill Knight
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With its tradition of inventive literary adaptations, the Rosemary Branch makes for a convivial setting in which to celebrate Persuasion, Jane Austen’s last completed and most emotionally stirring novel, in its bicentenary year.

Having previously adapted, directed and designed Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice, Bryony J. Thompson’s technique, in which every word spoken comes from the original text (condensed as necessary), is an unlikely dramatic method in an age of the radical deconstruction of classic texts, and yet it works to quite remarkable effect, retaining the beauty of the language and distinctive narrative voices, combined with an immediacy in its delivery to make compelling storytelling.

The use of Austen’s snarky asides as spoken stage directions of sorts cleverly exposes the hypocrisy of high society that so stifles heroine Anne Elliot. The juxtaposition between artifice and emotion is particularly effective in the way in which the narrative gives voice Anne’s thoughts, in which she ultimately emerges as a woman in control of her own head and heart.

Elegantly attired in their cream and grey livery, the nimble cast of six employ only adjustments in voice and body language to portray over twenty characters and all master Austen’s language with the utmost fluency. Rose McPhilemy gracefully captures Anne’s patient goodness, wry sense of humour and keen intelligence, so much of which is conveyed through her remarkably expressive eyes. Upon receiving that love letter from Captain Wentworth (an effectively saturnine Philip Honeywell), she is radiance personified, even (or especially) as a superannuated romantic heroine at the advanced age of 27.

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Elegant and eloquent Austen adaptation intelligently performed by sprightly young cast