‘Emma’ is a Regency romantic comedy, written by playwright Jane Austen at the age of thirty-nine. This was the follow-up to ‘Mansfield Park’ and took a year to write. Completed in March of 1815 (although the fly page says 1816) and published in December 1815 the three volume book was dedicated to Prince Albert, an ardent admirer. ‘Emma’ initially sold only 1,500 copies and by the time Jane died only a year and a half later, she had earned less than forty pounds from the book. ‘Persuasion’ and ‘Northanger Abbey’ were published posthumously.
This production of Emma can be seen at the Melville Theatre, situated at the corner of Stock Road and Canning Highway, in Palmyra, All performances begin at 8.00 pm, except the matinee on Sunday 13th which is at 2.00 pm.
This production of ‘Emma’ is a supporter of the National Breast Cancer Foundation, and Melville Theatre will be generously donating $2 from every ticket to the NBCF, as well as the proceeds from the raffle and any donations collected.
The play opens in the drawing room of the very comfortable home in Highbury, Surrey belonging to the Woodhouses. Sitting around the fire, a pretty young lady, Emma (Tess Perich) is bossing her hypochondriacal father, Mr Woodhouse (Doug Hellens). The senior maid, Bess (Penny Searle) enters and announces the arrival of Emma’s brother-in-law, the noble Mr Knightley (Matthew Lister). He has come to see spoilt Emma, but unthinkingly she shows little interest.
To cheer up her sick father, Emma invites around one of his favourite friends, Mr. Elton (Patrick Whitelaw) along with the young, innocent and gullible, Harriet Smith (Kaitlin Shawcross – delicately played). Mr Elton shows Emma a great deal of attention, but Emma steers him towards poor trusting and naive Harriet. However, Harriet is besotted with a Mr Martin, mentioning him in every sentence.
In the garden, as the servants are setting out the chairs, Bess gets all of the upstairs news from the new maid, Mary (Cally Zanik) before she turns on her, reprimands Mary for gossiping.
Mr Knightly gives a letter with a love riddle to Emma, who then gives it to green Harriet, hinting that Mr Knightley must be in love with her. Just then the nervous and garrulous Miss Bates (Olivia Darby – tremendous) arrives with her mother (Val Riches). Miss Bates chatters away for a few minutes before rushing off, leaving poor Harriett confused as to what the conversation had been about. Emma explains to Harriet that Miss Bates had received a letter from her niece, a Miss Jane Fairfax (Carmen Miles), who is coming to stay for a couple of months. Matchmaking Emma wastes no time in telling Mr Knightley that Jane is coming and how elegant she will look.
On the way home from a party, the romantically aroused Mr Elton and Emma have to share a carriage, and a litany of misunderstandings results. Mr Elton rushes from the carriage and walks home.
When young Frank Churchill (Jason Dohle) comes to stay at Highbury, once again interfering Emma takes over and points him towards Miss Fairfax, not knowing that Frank already has a young lady in mind. The arrival of Mr Elton and his new overbearing, self-centred wife (Sarah Cosstick) makes Jane Fairfax’s situation even more difficult.
All of the women are in love, but do the men of their dreams get the right messages from the appropriate perfect woman?
To adapt and dramatise three volumes into a two and a half hour play is no mean feat, but director Vanessa Jensen has done so admirably, retaining perfectly the mood of the novel and the rich writing style of Jane Austen. Vanessa then went on to give fantastic direction that brought the book alive.
It is not often that one finds the heroine of a classic who is such an unlikeable, manipulating matchmaker. These personality traits are clearly acted out by Tess Perich, who captures Emma’s surface beauty and hidden nasty persona, perfectly.
A good strong, well-chosen cast that showed wonderful teamwork. The director kept the pace up magnificently by having the cast, usually the maids, do the scene changes as they spoke their lines. Often a new scene would be started before the actors from the previous scene had slipped off into the wings. The excellent lighting design (Lars Jensen and Jeff Hansen) helped move the audience’s attention to the correct area of the stage, without any jarring by this bold meld of scenes.
The set consisted of a small corner of the stage being the living room; this was well furnished and had all of the usual props and fittings. The other scenes, that filled the stage, were represented by a dozen 10 ft. by 4 ft. flats; these were painted in a variety of light pastel colours, the colours of which blended brilliantly with the silks of the superb costumes (Michelle Sharp, Carmen Miles). Three of the large rear panels each rotated on a central pivot. One had an oil painting and a dado, another a street scene and the last a garden scene. The quality of the vista paintings (Tim Prosser) was outstanding. Thanks to the quality of the décor, each of these panels when revealed convinced the audience that the whole stage was decorated as shown. The panels were operated slickly (Val Riches, Diane Drew) and the costume changes instant thanks to Kelly Giles.
This is a delightful, light-hearted play that is filled with humour, and unlike so many classics, very easy to follow. Highly recommended to anyone between the ages of ten and a hundred, who may be looking for a pleasant and relaxing night out. A fresh change from the usual heavy drama.
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