‘Austen’s Women’ – Rebecca Vaughan brings to life no less than 14 female characters from Jane Austen‘s novels in her delightful one-woman show at St James Theatre Studio
“…wide variety of characters..beautifully designed and costumed..excellent tour-de-force performance”
As we enter the studio, we see the actress in period déshabillée sitting at her dressing table/desk preparing to go out for the evening and writing with her quill. We are thus invited into her room to meet the people she is about to present. The play-in music, rather than of the period, is modern American pop – ‘Sugar Baby Love’, pointing out the contemporary relevance of Austen’s writing.
From the start Austen’s sympathies for the plight of women is highlighted with a discorse on women’s constancy being longer and greater than men’s, history at that time having been written only by men, and the women’s power being only that of refusal. This led seemlessly into Elizabeth Bennett’s refusal of Darcy’s proposal of marriage.
In this well-constructed piece, we are presented a wide variety of characters, linked by narrative drawn largely from the novels themselves, ranging from Marianne Dashwood almost overcome by heart-ache, the unwittingly funny mercinary Mary Stanhope and the nervous over-talkative Miss Bates.
All of the women were well portayed, but some of my personal favourites were of the deliciously nasty Miss Norris (Mansfield Park) trying her best to spoil Fanny’s evening out, and the pretentious Mrs Elliot from “Sense and Sensibility” described “..as elegant as pearls and lace could make her” whilst the actress gradually donned more clothes and accessories, highlighting the character’s falseness, and also adding more layers to the piece as a whole. A particularly nice touch.
Expertly directed by Guy Masterson, this beautifully designed and costumed (Katie Flanaghan) show makes excellent use of space and the extracts from the novels are well chosen. There is no shying away from the less attractive qualities of certain characters, as well as the silliness of some, both young and old.
Rebecca Vaughan’s depictions are warm and engaging, with good comic timing and well-observed changes of voice, movement and mood. My one reservation regarding her otherwise excellent tour-de-force performance is her rather too frequent lapses from Received Pronounciation. To be true to period and social background of certain characters, more attention should be paid to the use of t’s and d‘s.
Presenting so many of Austen’s women side-by-side in this way cleverly illustrates the novelist’s great understanding of human nature with its foibles, follies and complexities, as well as her realistic recognition of the fate of a woman at that time if left single and poor.
A very enjoyable evening- and a must if you are a Jane Austen fan. It deserved a bigger audience.