According to Mirinda, Mansfield Park isn’t Jane Austen’s best book. It features a main character without a lot of faults. Actually, she has no faults if the adaptation we saw last night is anything to go by. And a main character without faults tends to fade into the background.
To be fair, having no faults in Jane’s Regency Britain is not necessarily the same as having none now. Take for instance the fact that Fanny (the main character) moves into the home of her aunt and uncle and three cousins, at a very young age and grows up there as one of the family. Then, and I’m sure I’m not spoiling the plot, she marries Edmund, the second son of the family.
This might not sound bad but consider that Edmund is her direct cousin and, in terms of growing up, more like a brother. A lot is made of their closeness, something not permitted for unrelated men and women, under the strict moral code of the period. Normally young people of marriageable age were never allowed to be alone together, let alone use first names or exchange hugs.
Weird social mores aside, we enjoyed the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds touring production of Mansfield Park. It popped into the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre this week and tonight was the final performance. This is the second year of touring.
Not all of the eight cast members are the same as 2012 but you wouldn’t know it as an audience. They performed very well as an ensemble, gushing Austen-speak as easily as modern English.
I didn’t think there was a single weak cast member. From the off, Ffion Jolly was delightfully dull and ridiculously sanctimonious as Fanny. Her looks of shock at some of the antics during the play preparations, were a delight.
Easily my favourite character was Mary Crawford played superbly by Laura Doddington. Almost a voice from the future, Mary brings a breath of fresh air to the staid and stolid Mansfield Park household. I liked her very much. Her brother Henry (Eddie Eyre) was a dashing young chap with nothing on his mind but mischief though, when he proposed to Fanny I wanted to yell at her for turning him down. Stupid girl.
But, of course, Henry shows his true colours when he runs off with Maria (pronounced Mariah and played with a beautifully annoying edge by Leonie Spilsbury) from under the nose of her irritatingly wealthy husband Mr Rushworth.
Mr Rushworth was played by Geoff Arnold who also had the task of playing Tom Bertram and William Price. He did extremely well, giving each of them quite distinct characterisations. Never easy.
Edmund Bertram, who has to mope around the glamorous Mary Crawford, was nicely played by Pete Ashmore. His life to come as a clergyman is guaranteed to be full of nothing happening to any great degree. Lucky Fanny!
The head of the household of Mansfield Park is Sir Thomas, played beautifully by Richard Heap. He also played Fanny’s drunken father, Mr Price in a brief scene which was enough to show why Fanny wanted to return to Mansfield Park.
Finally we had Aunt Norris played brilliantly by Julie Teal. What a horrid woman. Ms Teal was utterly convincing and I particularly liked her phrasing of one line, which sounded like she was going to have far too much pleasure in the billiard room.
So…it was a lovely night out at the theatre with the benefit of being originally written by Mirinda’s favourite author.