Austen the Musical review at Mirth, Marvel and Maud, London – ‘frustratingly thin portrait of an author’
The opening scene of Austen The Musical makes a strong argument in favour of ‘The Death of the Author’ mode of literary criticism.
The ensemble ponders how Jane Austen could have written so brilliantly about love and marriage without having ever been married herself. (By that logic, it’s astonishing that crime writers can convincingly write about murderers without killing anyone themselves).
Timothy Trimingham Lee’s rather stretched production features music, lyrics and a book by Rob Winlow whose reliance on the repetition of phrases – “romantic heart” is repeated ad nauseum – and musical motifs quickly become trying.
The cast provide some pleasant harmonies and the script is littered with quotes from the novels – pleasingly, not all from Pride and Prejudice.
Charting Austen’s flirtation with Thomas Lefroy and proposal from Harris Bigg-Wither, the most time and emotional energy, however, is devoted to the wholly fictitious Dr Preston – who courts our heroine via the most monotonous dance ever seen on stage.
The highlight of the production is Edith Kirkwood’s assured performance as Jane. She has a charming voice and vivacious presence. Jenni Lea-Jones is enjoyable as Mrs Austen and Thomas Hewitt and Adam Grayson provide game support as the suitors and Rev Austen.
Winlow concedes that Austen experienced love as a daughter, sister, aunt and beloved author, and that was indeed fulfilling for a lifetime, but the way in which the piece is filtered through a romantic lens suggests that a woman’s love life is still considered the most interesting thing about her, rather than her achievements.
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