I think that my plus one said it best: “perfectly pleasant”. Theatre6’s touring production of Jane Austen’s Persuasion is exactly that; a bit like watching a Sunday night ITV period drama but in a theatre. Not challenging, not ground-breaking, not particularly memorable, but perfectly pleasant.
There are worse things for a play to be. A hard-working company of six take on multiple acting roles as well as providing live musical accompaniment for this fast-paced adaptation that snaps between dialogue-heavy scenes at a sometimes-bewildering pace. Ceri-Lyn Cissone manages to avoid too much moping as the love-lorn, regretful Anne Elliot, Jason Ryall is suitably brooding as Wentworth (they all need to be brooding now, since Firth) and Lucinda Turner is witty and charismatic as Mary, Mrs Clay and Lady Russell, while doing her valiant best to create discernibly different personas and voices for each.
This shape-shifting is a tough ask for the cast, however. Siobhán Gerrard is expected to play six different parts, with only minimal costume changes to delineate each role, and at times it is a little hard to remember which of the half-dozen mannered society ladies she is performing at that given moment. A sparse and unchanging set adds at times to the challenge of keeping up with whose drawing room or rented Bath apartment we are observing; a set of grey lace parasols is the only real set design innovation in deployment as carriage wheels and crashing waves.
Austen’s last complete novel, published after her death in 1817, is not her best, but it is solid ITV period drama-type fare about the conflict between status and love, and between a woman’s responsibility to her family versus her right to an independent, happy life. There are some good lines, particularly on the theme of a woman’s nature and place in society; when Anne is reminded of all the literary works that prove the reality of female fickleness, for example, she points out that they were all written by men. But this is not a searingly thought-provoking production. For the most part, instead, I was happily drawn along with the melodrama, willing Anne and Wentworth to get over themselves and snog, while finding many of their status-obsessed relatives suitably aggravating. The two hours of stage time rattled along – the same cannot be said of many shows that are searingly thought-provoking – and I was never bored. The question is whether I needed to be in a theatre, rather than on the sofa in my pyjamas watching ITV, for perfectly pleasant.
Main image: Persuasion, Ceri-Lyn Cissone and Jason Ryall. Photo by Robin Savage.
Persuasion is at the Liverpool Playhouse until October 13, 2018 and will then be touring the North.