Getting the right angle on Christmas fun

Mansfield Park & Ride, by Brendan Murray, Eastern Angles, Sir John Mills Theatre until January 9 2010; Seckford Theatre, Woodbridge, January 12-22In a plot littered with unexpected letters and unexpected rain storms, Mansfield Park & Ride was unexpurgated almost-Austen.

Lynne Mortimer

Mansfield Park & Ride, by Brendan Murray, Eastern Angles, Sir John Mills Theatre until January 9 2010; Seckford Theatre, Woodbridge, January 12-22

In a plot littered with unexpected letters and unexpected rain storms, Mansfield Park & Ride was unexpurgated almost-Austen.

Witty, daft and pacy, the cast of just six executed the vocal gymnastics of the dialogue and the inevitable gender crossovers with enormous spirit.

The intricate machinations of this Austenesque love story was less Sense and Sensibility, more nonsense and nonsensibility.

We meet the newly-widowed Mrs Bonnet - a consummately hilarious Sally-Ann Burnett - and her three unmarried daughters as she faces being thrown out of her home at North Hadleigh Abbey. The new owner is the aesthetically challenged Reverend Weakly who, once Mrs B has used all her powers of persuasion, decides he will marry one of the daughters - any one will do; Lizzie, Lucy or Lottie... well maybe not Lottie, bearing in mind her distinct five o'clock shadow.

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But Lizzie is already in love with Captain Knightly, our mostly shirtless hero.

The plot is further complicated by Knightly's longstanding betrothal to Fanny Fitz-Tightly but Fanny has designs on Mr Daly who, in turn, has designs for Ipswich town centre.

The performances from an extremely well cast and musically assured ensemble were terrific.

Sophie Steer is a sparkling Lizzie and William Belchambers a dashing and often damply or semi-clad Knightly. Their immaculate comic timing gave us a number of delicious moments.

Belchambers also took on Lottie, the girl with that little bit more.

Vera Chok was, by turns a wet Lucy and a feisty Fanny - and in case you were wondering, the comic possibilities of her name were thoroughly explored.

The biggest performance of the evening comes from the delightful Greg Wagland who is a monstrous, sex-starved Lady Kitty Fitz-Tightly; a bluff roguish Daly and a sex-starved (again) Reverend.

Penny Lamport skitters about as ubiquitous Betsy, a maid at two houses and a serving wench at the tavern.

You won't be surprised to hear there is a happy ending although some uproarious moments of comedy surprise threatened at times to bring the house down. The appearance of Ludwig Van Beethoven to conduct his own work was a fabulous device.

Brendan Murray has penned a wittily elegant piece showing great appreciation for the language of Austen but don't be deceived (you won't be) for the jokes come thick and fast and fantastic and director Ivan Cutting makes sure we don't miss any of them.

Richard Taylor's pleasing, classical style music is played at a piano which has been integrated into the simple but effective set.

Mansfield Park & Ride made my face ache from laughing; a real Christmas cracker.

Lynne Mortimer

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