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Persuasion review at Playground Theatre, London – ‘faithful and traditional’

Siobhan Gerrard and Ceri-Lyn Cissone in Persuasion. Photo: Robin Savage Siobhan Gerrard and Ceri-Lyn Cissone in Persuasion. Photo: Robin Savage

Persuasion was the last novel finished by Jane Austen, and it contains all the well-worn components the author is famous for. There’s a tortured will-they, won’t-they? romance between Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth, an ever-present obsession with status, and it’s partly set in Bath.

Save for one brief meta-theatrical flourish, director Kate McGregor’s production of Stephanie Dale’s stage adaptation is a faithful and traditional staging. Its main quirk is putting music at the centre of proceedings, with violin, flute, clarinet and piano played live.

As the story’s heorine, Ceri-Lyn Cissone is a study in stoicism. Her Anne is long-suffering with an ‘angel in the house’ charitable streak. Lucinda Turner has a lot of fun performing as Mary, Anne’s sister and utter opposite, a food-obsessed hypochondriac with the early 19th century vocabulary equivalent of OMG.

In the vine-covered columns and the empire-line dresses, Charlotte Cooke’s set and costume design accurately captures the era’s obsession with Grecian aesthetics. Paul Freeman’s sound design is similarly detailed, switching between the bucolic twittering of birds to the brittle Bathonian chitter-chatter that follows the characters’ every move.

The production finds a lot of humour in the insular pomp of Austen’s aristocracy, plus the shrieking silliness of the younger female characters. At points, the format tips towards being saccharine, with Anne a little too virtuous and morally upright to make her truly enjoyable to root for (the author’s ‘bad’ characters always seem more fun). On the whole, however, it’s a solid and prettily designed – if slightly over-long – staging.

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Verdict
Live music adds interest to traditional stage adaptation of Jane Austen’s last novel
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