A persuasive performance

Austen’s Women

Theatre Royal, Bury St Edmunds

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the works of Jane Austen will forever find and audience in Middle England.

Such was the artfulness of her style, her wit and the irony created by her narrative voice, that there will always be an attraction for modern audiences.

So take the words of Austen, embroider a loose narrative, add one gorgeous and talented actress - Rebecca Vaughan - and begin with a harp recital on a period instrument, and you have an evening guaranteed to appeal to an enthusiastic if not huge audience.

Danielle Perrett played her 1801 instrument with passion and aplomb, resurrecting pieces in a range of styles from the Regency period, which, with a little stretch of the imagination, could have been heard or played by the characters in Austen’s novels.

Works by Naderman, Mayer, Steibelt and Dussek were interspersed with interesting tales of French harp makers fleeing revolutionary Paris to the safety of London.

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Then it was Vaughan’s turn, seated at a dressing table, to bring to life 14 of Austen’s characters and another, perhaps the novels’ most important character - the narrator. She set the scene with a lecture about men and women before morphing into Elizabeth Bennet, who has just received Mr Darcy’s grudging proposal, which at this stage she has no intention of accepting.

Lizzie Bennet has the first and last word, later having had her prejudices about the proud Darcy shattered.

In between the two Lizzies appear a heartbroken Marianne Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility, a foursome from Emma - fussing, garrulous Miss Bates, Miss Woodhouse herself, Harriet Smith and the awful Augusta Elton with her plans for the Dunwell strawberry picking trip which simply must include a donkey to add to the faux rusticity.

Each was clearly defined and delineated; many were hilarious.

And the whole was cleverly held together by the use of costume, beginning with a distracting buxom look in a corset and finishing ready to take herself to a ball, no doubt there to meet a Darcy, Bingley or, heaven forbid, a Wickham.

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