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Mansfield Park (tour - Palace Theatre, Westcliff)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Pete Ashmore and Ffion Jolly
Colin Blumenau's 2012 production of Tim Luscombe's adaptation of Jane Austen's novel "Mansfield Park" has been revised for this new tour. The minimalist but effective set by Kit Surrey has a flexibility which would appear to adapt to any size of stage and his costumes allow for some very quick changes to indicate the passage of time, place and indeed of character.

All well and good, but there does seem to be a problem with audibility. I suspect that this revival was rehearsed at its home theatre, whose stage and audience relationship has an intimacy which even a school-of-Matcham theatre cannot replicate. So the dialogue appeared on the second night of the run to proceed either as a murmur or as a shout; if you don't know the story, you'll have to strain to catch all the nuances of the dialogue.

Ffion Jolly repeats her engaging portrait of Fanny Price, one of Austen's most subdued heroines, as does Pete Ashmore as the younger Bertram brother Edmund. They are the quiet centre of the book and the play, side-stepping towards a matured love while everyone else in the story indulges in their own thoughtless or even malicious games.

Geoff Arnold repeats his well-contrasted trio of wastrel Tom Bertram, bespectacled Mr Rushworth and Fanny's sailor brother William while Richard Heap booms equally effectively as Sir Thomas and Fanny's soured father. New to the cast is Laura Doddington as the vivacious Mary Crawford, on the look-out for a fine house as well as a well-turned leg.

Her brother Henry, who almost touches sincerity with Fanny but exchanges it for Leonie Spilsbury's spoilt Maria Bertram, is played by Eddie Eyre. He balances the charm and the selfishness of the character well. Mrs Norris is not the sort of aunt one would wish on one's worst enemy and Julie Teal lays her before us in all her autumn colours, pursed lips and venomous utterance.

Anne Morley-Priestman