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Austen’s Women, Bridgwater Arts Centre
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single actress in possession of a considerable talent, must be in want of an audience, and in Bridgwater’s Arts Centre Rebecca Vaughan had an appreciative one. As Jane Austen in all her cream underwear she introduced us to the quirks, the quibbles and the asides of some the her more memorable characters and along the way pronounced on life, love and the human condition with a dressing table full of good sense.
The one woman show by Dyad Productions of Austen’s Women directed by Guy Masterton and performed and adapted from the novels and letters of Jane Austen is a 70 minute emersion into the mind of the novelist as we visit her bedroom while she prepares for a night out. It’s not a high octane show with singing or dancing, and no major action. Instead it is more like a dramatized talk -but one in which the actor never slips from her character, never allows time to drag or for the audience to become restless. Witty, funny, well-paced and beautifully performed by Vaughan the strength of the show is her seamless changes of characterisation and the script which allows Austen to cast her candle light on the foibles of those in her novels and perhaps all of us in general.
We know Elizabeth Bennett so well that is was as well for the play to start with the heroine of Pride and Prejudice, but Vaughan manages then to take us on a tour of the good, the bad and the gossipy as she illustrated the moods and the emotions of Marianne Dashwood, Mrs Norris and of course the impossible Emma Woodhouse. We meet Elizabeth Watson who warns of the poisonous Penelope, Harriet Smith who is always in love and the selfish Fanny Dashwood.
Mrs Norris is comically disdainful of all around her, while the selfish Mary in Persuasion persuades herself that she can go out for the evening and leave her sick son with the maid – reminding us that when we want something we can conjure up the reasons to justify our desires. And so to the wonderfully empty headed Catherine Moreland who’s dotty minded teenage brain in so brilliantly captured by Vaughan as she explains how she is often inattentive and sometimes very stupid. A character whose frankness is hard to resist.
Dressed in corset, slip and evening gown designed by Kate Flanaghan and with a simple set of square carpet, dressing table chair and wooden vanity screen for her costume changes the production is stripped down to its essentials for what Masterson describes as the contract of imagination with the audience. A production where the audience and the actor are as one – and where Jane Austen came alive for an hour or so in Bridgwater.
Harry Mottram. 4 stars
The show is on tour nationally until April 1. For details visit www.dyadproductions.com