Review: Persuasion

Date: 09/10/2018

Do classics have to be updated? Do we need references to Tindr, mobile phone and Donald Trump? Thankfully no – and this new touring production, is the proof. Stephanie Dale’s adaptation is faithful, reverential in all the right ways and puts the comedy of manners, etiquette and romantic procedure front and centre.

Perfectly cast as Anne – our protagonist usually damp of eye and pale of cheek – is Ceri-Lyn Cissone, displaying all the tropes Jane Austen is known for. Anne is smart, aware and slightly dismayed by the antics of her family who, though indebted, aren’t about to let a lack of funds endanger their status or impinge on their social lives. A ‘starving shrew’ and not in the first bloom of youth, helpfully pointed out by her family, is a portrait of stoic dignity.

Anne has little truck with the chauvinism of some of the men around her either, though she is powerless to resists the slightly gauche, rather stiff and apparently dreamy Captain Wentworth. The two are lovers lost to one another and Wentworth isn’t going to let eight years and Anne’s obvious interest get in the way of his stiff upper, er, lip.

And so the characters – many and varied, yet played by a cast of just six in a development that occasionally intrudes on narrative clarity – play out their various moves, like pieces on a chess board, forever limited by the social mores and traditions of the early 19th Century. A distant cousin arrives – David Walliams in a bottle-green suit – to complicate matters, but it’s the working out that matters here, rater than the result.

Director Kate McGregor and the cast find plenty of humour in the text and there’s a definite lightness of touch that makes the 120-minute running time zip by. The whole cast have plenty of fun but the female cast make the most of the vulgarities and inanities of the characters they portray. And there’s a single, pleasing meta moment where Anne’s grief over losing Wentworth is such that it breaks the fourth wall completely.

The cast, both in and out of character, pause in the midst of cradling their instruments, there to punctuate dramatic or melancholy moments. It’s an impressive scene, carried of with style, that doesn’t intrude on the fundamental simplicities of this rather enchanting production.

Liverpool Playhouse
Until 13 October