Persuasion: Oxford Playhouse, Rose Theatre, Alexandra Park and Palace Charitable Trust
Review: Persuasion at the Oxford Playhouse until 14 May. Tickets from £10. Book here.
[Disclosure: The Oxford Playhouse provided me with free tickets and a free programme for the purposes of this review as well as free food and drink in the press room during interval.]
What a joy it is to go to a play like this super fun adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. It’s frothy, ephemeral, light hearted and funny.
Persuasion is the story of a decision made by 19 year old Anne Elliot. Anne allows herself to be persuaded by her family not to accept a marriage proposal from Fredrick Wentworth, the man she loves with all her heart. Her family’s objection? Fredrick Wentworth has no money and no prospects.
Fred Fergus, who plays Fredrick Wentworth.
Fast forward 8 years and Fredrick Wentworth returns from the Napoleonic Wars, in a blaze of glory; a war hero having been awarded a huge fortune in naval prize money. The former couple; older, wiser and sadder, circle each other - still bruised and wary.
Sasha Frost, who plays Anne Elliot. The press photos do not do justice to the production, which is much more vibrant than the photos show.
Very occasionally, producers produce a play in which everything comes together at exactly the right time. This is the case with Persuasion, which has been co-produced by the Oxford Playhouse, the Rose Theatre and the Alexandra Park and Palace Charitable Trust.
Video still of the trailer - showing characters Fredrick Wentworth and Louisa Musgrove frolicking in the sea foam - which falls from the ceiling.
Judging by the packed theatre, the continuous laughter throughout and the applause long after the actors left their curtain calls – Persuasion is exactly what people want to see, exactly when they need to see it.
The cool soundtrack to Persuasion
The adaptation is contemporary and owes a large debt to Bridgerton – with its non-traditional casting, steamy scenes, and relatively modern vernacular – though not the costumes - which are truly awful.
Grace Cookey-Gam does a brilliant job playing Lady Russell/Mrs Croft despite the horrid costumes.
The acting, almost completely across the board, is absolutely spectacular and pretty much every performance is a complete stand out. Matilda Bailes, who makes her professional stage debut in this production, is extraordinary both as Elizabeth Elliot and Louisa Musgrove.
Video still of the trailer - showing one of the many dance parties that take place on stage.
Her physicality alternates between hilariously slapstick and quite steamy. Bailes is a star in the making. Another one of my favourite performances is Helen Cripps as Mary Elliot. Cripps’ performance brings a new and hilarious dimension to Mary Elliot as the middle aged, exhausted and fed up wife – who just wants to have a bit of fun (Ahem).
Video trailer of Persuasion.
The way director Jeff James has chosen to communicate society leader Lady Dalrymple as utterly vulgar is a tiny moment of genius and played to perfection by, I think, Dorian Simpson – who doubles up and plays Charles Musgrove in such a contemporary way that I suddenly see him as a real person for the first time.
Video still of the Persuasion trailer.
With loud, thumping music by Frank Ocean, Dua Lipa and Cardi B – going to Persuasion really felt like finding a slightly quieter corner of a really fun, heaving nightclub and sitting with a friend, people watching. Brilliant fun!
Those wishing to see a traditional, period adaptation of Persuasion will be disappointed. This is a very contemporary production, often with contemporary language, including the ‘F’ word, shouted and clearly audible. There is quite a bit more steamy kissing than in the original text, as well as loud, thumping music throughout. If that doesn’t sound appealing – then perhaps skip this production.