I have a feeling that Jane Austen might well approve of Eastern Angles’ latest Christmas show. Mansfield Park & Ride plays fast (very) and loose (even more so) with romance, pragmatism and the long arm of coincidence. There are chunks of Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility underpinning Brendan Murray’s script as well as glancing references to Persuasion and to Emma. That Mansfield Park itself is hardly allowed stage room is totally immaterial.
The Bonnet family has problems. It’s about to be turfed out of the ancestral home, now inherited by a clergyman. In addition, down-to-earth Lizzie (Sophie Steer) is hankering after Captain Knightly, last seen on the beach at Cromer; romantic Lucy (Vera Chok) seeks true love – and a crisis all of her own – and Lottie (William Belchambers, who also plays Knightly – keep up at the back there!) wants to join the dragoons. If the Reverend Weakly is in need of a bride as well as a house, then Mr Daly wants a development site and Lady Kitty wants to keep herself in comfort (Greg Wagland plays them all).
You get the general drift.
Add in Beethoven, a doctor, a discharged soldier as well as Mrs Bonnet (these are all dithered and doddered by Sally-Ann Burnett) and a maid of all work (Penny Lamport) and the fun becomes furious as well as fast. Where else could Beethoven’s setting of Schiller’s “Ode to Joy” seem a perfectly natural choice for the sing-along moment?
Ivan Cutting’s direction matches up to Richard Taylor’s musical arrangements (Beethoven, naturally) and Jessica Worrall’s sets and costumes. There’s a nice running joke about manly torsos and wet shirts as well as an avalanche of local references, with Ipswich and its Buttermarket somehow standing in for Bath and an inn called Beggars Belief – I’m not sure that I’d trust the punch served in its taproom however.