Austen’s Women

Rebecca Vaughan  in 'Austen's Women'

‘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

Rebecca Vaughan  in 'Austen's Women'

Rebecca Vaughan in ‘Austen’s Women’

“…wide variety of characters..beautifully designed and costumed..excellent tour-de-force performance”

Rebecca Vaughan (Dyad Productions)brings to life no less than 14 female characters from Jane Austen’s novels in her one-woman show ‘Austen’s Women’ at St James Theatre Studio and touring the UK.

As we enter the studio, we see the actress in period shabillée 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.

Rebecca Vaughan  in 'Austen's Women'

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.

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About Fiona Jane Weston

I am Fiona-Jane Weston and as well as being a performer myself (see website), I write reviews of and features on shows, mainly on the London cabaret and theatre scene. I have worked in theatre for many years, but decided to embark on a new direction in cabaret in 2009, when I produced 20th Century Woman: The Compact Cabaret. Not wanting to neglect my love of spoken word, particularly drama and verse, I made the conscious decision to include these elements in the programme, as well as wonderful songs, to tell the story of women's changing status and preoccupations throughout the 20th Century and up to now. I was invited to audition for the renowned Cabaret Conference at Yale, run by the late legendary Erv Raible, and that was thrilled to be one of only 26 accepted that year, where I was taught by the masters of the genre. Amanda McBroom (composer of the Bette Middler hit "The Rose" and the poignant "Errol Flynn"), Laurel Massé, original member of Manhattan Transfer, Sally Mayes, Tony Award nominees Sharon McNight and Tovah Feldshuh, and New York cabaret veteran Julie Wilson were all on the faculty. We were also treated to the musical direction of Alex Rybeck, Hubert Tex Arnold and the now late Paul Trueblood. With the benefit of their insightful teaching and great encouragement, I took my show to The Duplex in New York, where I was delighted with the response. Since then, I have produced Loving London: The Capital Cabaret, using the same format of songs, poetry and drama, in various London venues, including Leicester Square Theatre and The Crazy Coqs. 2014, the centenary of World War 1, saw the launch of Wartime Women: the Khaki Cabaret to a sellout house at St. James Theatre, London, garnering great notices, including from The Times and Musical Theatre Review. I have since been touring the show to Belgium and throughout the UK. I hope these reviews and interviews entertain and educate at the same time, and if please do leave comments in the box. It's great to engage in a conversation about the Arts. Fiona-Jane Weston
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