THE music is tinkling harpsichord, the set is all 18th century toiles of rustic scenes.
Try as we may, though, to reduce Jane Austen and her works to something pretty, prissy and polite, it’s never quite possible to disguise the mighty satirical energy that drives her deepest and darkest novel Mansfield Park, adapted for the stage by Tim Luscombe in this touring production from the Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds .
Set on a great English country estate in the first years of the 19th century, Mansfield Park is a story of many characters, only two of whom – our heroine Fanny Price, a poor cousin living with the wealthy Bertram family, and her cousin Edmund, a nice younger son who aspires only to the life of a country parson – have not been almost completely corrupted by the pursuit of wealth and status, notably through advantageous marriages.
Colin Blumenau’s pastel-toned production pmakes a fitful job of capturing Fanny’s journey to dignity and love, through the blizzard of contempt directed at her for her poverty and her mousy looks. There’s too much heavily mannered posh-acting among the cast, and Luscombe’s adaptation is oddly structured, placing a huge and prolonged emphasis on the novel’s complex final love-quadrangle.
The show keeps a firm grip on this great story, though, thanks to fine acting in the leading roles, notably from Laura Doddington as the charming but amoral Mary Crawford, and – above all – from a poised and poignant Ffion Jolly as Fanny; a heroine whose story is so central to the drama that the production’s other weaknesses often seem to melt from view, leaving only the memory of her little, beautiful, stubborn face, fighting for the fundamental right to choose a love of her own.