Review: Austen the Musical

3 star rating
A disorganised start and poor sightlines negatively impacted on the experience, though it's likely to attract many avid Austen fans, in spite of its rather limited musical appeal.
Austen the Musical at Mirth, Marvel and Maud Theatre

Image: Austen the Musical



Closes here: Wednesday 24 January 2018


Author:
Rob Winlow

Composer:
Rob Winlow

Lyricist:
Rob Winlow

Director:
Timothy Trimingham Lee

Cast:

Edith Kirkwood - Jane Austen

Thomas Hewitt - Jane's suitors

Jenni Lea-Jones - Mrs Austen

Adam Grayson - Mr Austen


Synopsis


"Vivid imagination was your creative art.


Were you truly in love?


Or just romantic heart?"


Austen the Musical explores Jane's struggle to have her work published in a male dominated environment, her failed romances and her vow to reject a woman's conventional lifestyle in Georgian England.


It is the story of Jane Austen's transition from a country parson's daughter to one of the most widely read writers in English Literature.


Austen The Musical is full of stunning songs with moments of joy, despair and heart-wrenching sadness.


Background


This fresh, new, musical production has played the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Jane Austen Festival, York New Musical Festival, and a small tour - all to sell-out crowds.


On UK Tour.


Award-winning playwright and BBC Radio 2 Golden Oldie Nominee, Rob Winlow presents the full version of this new musical adaptation of the life of Jane Austen.


Trailer



ActDrop reviews


Peter Brown

Performance date: Tuesday 23 January 2018
Review star rating image for 3 stars

Having recently written a blog post about what theatres should do when transport disruption means many audience members are missing, this show threw-up another question: should a show start when a sizeable chunk of the audience are still queuing to get into the theatre?


I was a little later arriving than usual thanks to 'congestion' delays on the Overground (again!).


There was, however, still a good 10 minutes to make it into the auditorium and, on joining the lengthy queue, it seemed perfectly reasonable to expect that one would get inside before curtain-up.


But the queue moved at a snail's pace, and we edged ominously closer to start time.


When I eventually got to the entrance door, one of the ushers told another that the show was starting.


By the time I got inside, the first song was well underway, and I had to hurriedly grab the nearest vacant seat.


For the next few minutes, more people continued to stream into the auditorium, making it almost impossible to see what was going on, and little chance to catch the lyrics or much of the tune.


The cast admirably soldiered on throughout this period of disruption, but it must have been distracting and unsettling for them too.


I don't know why someone thought it a good idea to start the show when many people were still waiting to get inside.


Surely, it would have been appropriate to use a little '(common) sense and sensibility' to hold the show up for just a few minutes to get everyone seated.


I don't know if the venue was overwhelmed by numbers or what was really the cause of the delay - once everyone was in the room, it did seem close to being sold-out.


A disruptive start of that kind does impact excessively on one's appreciation of a show, though the attentive audience settled-down quite quickly.


I suspect a lot of people were drawn to this musical simply because it is about Jane Austen - still one of the most popular authors even some 200 years after her death.


Overall, it's largely a tale of Jane's struggles with getting published and getting married, accompanied by a rather hefty dose of death.


Well, I don't suppose you can discuss the life of an author who lived in the late 18th and early 19th century without mentioning the ever-present threat of death due to rampant disease and parlous medical knowledge.


Still, it nonetheless feels a little top heavy with that particular issue, even if all the deaths we learn about are salient to Ms Austen's story.


A team of 4 actors capture all the characters, with simple costume changes aiding their transformations as necessary.


Edith Kirkwood impresses as the long-suffering Jane who finds it hard to acquire a husband from the several suitors we meet, all skilfully played and well-differentiated by Thomas Hewitt.


The dastardly publishers, who repeatedly refuse to take on the work of a woman, are (appropriately, perhaps) disguised with white masks, but period costume is otherwise in evidence as might be expected, or even compulsory for the sake of authenticity.


The songs also convey a period feel and a certain charm with simple piano accompaniment, but I largely found them uninspiring with some lyrics repeated too often, and some of the 4 part harmonies sounding a little muddy at times.


The stage at this venue is surprisingly low, which means that when the actors are sitting down, they are more or less obscured by audience members sitting near the front.


Additionally, my view was blocked for much of the first half by the woman sitting in front of me who sat diagonally in her seat, almost in side-saddle fashion, perhaps imitating the times in which the play is set.


The audience seemed to appreciate the touches of polite humour in the dialogue, and, at the end, showed enthusiastic approval.


However, the disorganised start and somewhat poor sightlines negatively impacted on the experience this show might have provided, though I expect it will still attract many avid Austen fans, in spite of its rather limited musical appeal.



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