We’re always fans of productions that do the unconventional, and Persuasion – Jeff James and James Yeatman’s modern adaptation of the classic Jane Austen novel of the same name – could hardly be described as traditional. With a soundtrack featuring Lizzo, Cardi B and Dua Lipa, and one particularly memorable scene reframed as a foam party, it’s a high energy show with plenty of fun moments. It also manages to remain surprisingly faithful to its source material.
There are some genuinely very amusing gags. Observations are wittily reinterpreted – notions that Bath is a city blighted by modern architecture, or that travelling 17 miles is a very long way, may well have been true two centuries ago but seem pretty absurd nowadays. Other choices work less well – our protagonist Anne (Sasha Frost) deals with her problems by literally pushing them off the back of the stage. It’s a device which is entertaining the first time around, but quickly overstays its welcome.
On the staging in general – we weren’t particularly taken. This production has just transferred from Kingston’s Rose Theatre, which is a more intimate setting than the cavernous Alexandra Palace. Everything feels a bit small and out of place, and it’s all just a little simple. This is a stunning space, with a beautiful faded glory aesthetic – the harsh lighting, minimalism and modern lines of this production aren’t a natural fit.
It’s saved by a solid story at its core and some enjoyable performances. Persuasion remains a tale of a woman who has to fight against the barriers created by social conventions in order to find true happiness; along the way, we encounter plenty of reminders that choosing the easy and expected path is no guarantee that everything will turn out ok. Bickering married couple Mary (Helen Cripps) and Charles (Dorian Simpson) raise plenty of laughs, and Fred Fergus is authentic as the ultimately well-intentioned Wentworth.
We enjoyed our evening with Persuasion – it doesn’t get everything right, but it provides an entertaining take on a classic novel and is a perfectly good excuse to spend a couple of hours in the gorgeous setting of Alexandra Palace.
GAY TIMES gives Persuasion – 3/5
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