Jane Austen’s Emma
Adaptation by Tim Luscombe.
Director: Colin Blumenau.
Designer: Libby Watson
An evening in the world of Emma Woodhouse – I was captivated by this brilliant new adaptation of Jane Austen’s story. Here's the outline:
Emma Woodhouse is a strong-willed young woman, mistress of her own house and money since she became carer of her aged widowed father at the age of twelve. Now in her mid-twenties and urged by her neighbours and friends to marry, she's understandably loth to give up her own legal power (as a wife in Regency English society must). Nevertheless, she spends most of her time trying to manipulate the loves and marital status of everyone around her, usually with disastrous but comic results. Gradually she learns to be less patronising, more self-aware, through the advice of her old friend Mr Knightly. The advice is often blunt and sometimes scolding – ‘Emma, you are a spoilt brat!’
If Emma is snobbish, Mrs Elton (Hannah Genesius) shows how London society “does” snobbishness and social control. This is another spirited performance; the bitchy interactions between the two women are very funny.
Kate Copeland (Miss Bates) also turns in a memorable performance as the pitiable spinster, whose social status has fallen with her finances. Polly Misch as Harriet, Emma’s even more vulnerable seventeen-year-old protégé, is touching in her naivety and silliness. Georgie Oulton as Jane, at risk of ruin by an untrustworthy suitor, completes Austen’s parade of the plight of women without money of their own in Regency society. Nicholas Tizzard, George Kemp and Rhys Jones play the other male characters: the fragile anxious invalid Mr Woodhouse, Mr Elton who wants a wife in a hurry, and Frank Churchill, the handsome cad.
Emma is set in Surrey., which added to the fun: the Leatherhead audience found references to trips to Epsom, a visit to London for a haircut (‘sixteen miles on horseback’) and the reassurance that ‘the scarlet fever has stopped at Cobham’, quite comical.
This adaptation of Emma is authentic and accessible even to those who haven’t read the novel or seen the films. The staging is original and imaginatively designed. And you will surely fall in love with the flawed and charming character of Emma Woodhouse! As Miss Austen herself said, through the character of Mr Knightley: ‘Emma is faultless, in spite of her faults.’
I saw Emma at Leatherhead Theatre; from Tuesday May 30th to Saturday June 3rd it's at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford. Definitely a five-star show.