The Assembly Rooms (Venue 20) Thurs 6 – Sun 9 August 2015
The resilience of the Chamber Opera of Chicago is never in doubt as the company stick at their operetta adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion to the end, working hard to bring in at just under three hours.
Seen in preview at the Assembly Rooms, where it has three full performances (Friday 7 – Sunday 9 August 2015), Persuasion has all the feel of a piece which has found its spiritual home.
It was in these same Assembly Rooms that such entertainments as those depicted Austen’s novel of manners, misapplied social etiquette and repressed love, were taking place in Edinburgh while Austen’s characters were observing their social niceties in Somerset, Lyme Regis and Bath.
Adapted and created by COC’s artistic director, Barbara Landis, the operetta uses Austen’s structure, plot and a judicious amount of her dialogue. Then marries it with a strong representation of the music with which Austen would have been familiar.
Here are Beethoven, Handel and Hayden, together with contemporanius English composers for the stage, such as Henry Carey, Thomas Linley and Richard Leveridge. Indeed, some of the music comes from Austen’s own collection of manuscripts. Although the lyrics – a nod to Burns apart – are largely Landis’ own.
For the most part, this all works very well. It allows COC’s large cast to take on 28 named roles and most to let their vocal chords get a solo run-out. Often, to pleasing effect with some lovely vibrant coloratura.
The small orchestra bring great clarity under the musical director of Nyela Basney, providing their own scenic colour to judiciously created photo backdrops, which establish an authentic setting, particularly on Lyme’s famous and dangerously sloping harbour wall, the Cobb.
Landis has created for herself a huge central role. She plays both Jane Austen, who is explaining her latest novel to a nephew and niece, and Anne Elliott, the heroine of that novel and on-the-shelf second daughter of a financially embarrassed Baronet.
She has the demeanour of the put-upon and taken-for-granted spinster down pat. That stoop of resignation which masks an inner strength. However her accent jars horribly. Her singing voice is pleasant, in a fulsome way, and if she could only take the plum out of her mouth and find a bit of conviction it would be strong performance.
Fortunately, there is a lot else happening to focus upon, as the Elliott’s decamp to Bath and let their house to an Admiral who, it just happens, is related to Captain Wentworth (a steadfast Jeff Diebold), the one true love of Anne’s life. It was he, before he was a successful captain, who her persuasive godmother got her to reject for not being rich or well establishd enough.
Anne has to go off to stay with her hypochondriac younger sister Mary – sung with great presence by Anne Marie Lewis. It is around her in-laws, the Musgroves, that the ins and outs of love take place, as the party go off to Lyme, then up to Bath, where the Elliot’s have taken a swish set of rooms.
Austen’s story is all there – in buckets. And if there is an inner sense of respect, it is not overbearing with enough over-the-top performances to keep it light. It’s not all sensible. Quite what a couple of Irish dancers are doing with the sailors the company meet in Lyme is not clear, for example.
The two lads’ ability to lift their feet up above their ears while delivering the Riverdance footwork is certainly a crowd-pleaser. But their mysteriously idiosyncratic presence is more redolent of a G&S plot than Austen – without Gilbert’s satirical bite.
If it is great fun at times, it is undoubtedly too long. The second act becomes tedious with all its to-ing and fro-ing, while there are too many instances where performers rush their lines to keep the pace up.
Running time 2 hours 45 minutes
Assembly Rooms (Venue 20), 54 George Street, EH2 2LR
Thursday 6 – Sunday 9 August, 2015
Book tickets on the Assembly Rooms website :http://www.arfringe.com/show/2090/jane_austens_persuasion_a_new_musical_drama
EdFringe website details: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/jane-austen-s-persuasion-a-new-musical-drama