Love, loss and sharp Regency-era witticisms. These are the iconic trademarks of all Jane Austen’s novels, and her last novel Persuasion is no different, telling the story of Anne Elliot who is persuaded to reject her beloved Captain Wentworth by her shallow family. It is the source material for Theatre6’s production showing at the Liverpool Playhouse, directed by Kate McGregor and adapted for the stage by Stephanie Dale. To condense an Austen novel into two and a half hours is no easy task, but this seems almost effortless under the direction of Dale. The actors, of which there are only six, navigate the small set seamlessly, putting every prop and set piece to good use. A piano serves as the centre of the set around which the actors move, converse, and even play on; as not only can they act, but are also all called upon to play instruments including the flute, clarinet and violin which serve as background music for the scenes. One such scene in the second half requires the main character Anne, played by Ceri-Lyn Cissone, to play the piano for a full three minutes, as both the rest of the cast and the audience watch on, merging the boundary between the stage and theatregoers as they become one.
As this is one of Austen’s more geographical novels, featuring locations such as Somersetshire, the coastal Lyme Regis and Bath, the challenge proved greater for Dale’s adaption, but both she and the small set succeeded tremendously, taking the audience on a journey across Southern England. The lighting of the stage was also cleverly utilised, particularly during Anne’s monologues where blue rays surrounded her, reflecting her pensive emotional nature which is so heavily emphasised in the novel. At the play’s denouement when she experiences a revelation concerning Captain Wentworth, bright white lights fill the stage to represent her illumination.
For audience members who are not familiar with the book, the use of only six actors each playing several different characters, with only small costume alterations and slight voice changes to distinguish between them, could potentially be confusing. Even more so with an Austen novel, where there are often many similar characters who come and go throughout the narrative. However, this is also testament to the actors’ talent, as they smoothly switch between embodying several different characters coming on and off the stage within only a few minutes.
Their comedic timing is impeccable too, as they translate Austen’s famous wit to the stage beautifully, all taken from Dale’s choice usage of the funniest lines from the book, which had the audience laughing throughout.
With such delightful source material, it would be hard for Austen’s charm to not impact the audience. This production triumphed over both that and the challenges such a novel would ordinarily bring with ease. Accessible to both Austen fans and those who have never read her, Persuasion is an absolute gem of theatre production.
Persuasion is on at the Liverpool Playhouse until Saturday 13th October. Book your tickets here