Persuasion is often labeled the most romantic of Jane Austen’s novels for its mixture of love, regret, and a sense of destiny in the lead couple, much like more recently love stories like The Notebook or Always Be My Maybe. Two people fall in love but the circumstances drive them apart only for them to be reunited in the future when rekindle their young romance.
Set around the Napoleonic Wars, the story follows Anne Elliot (Rose Treloar) who, at 27, is getting on in years and her unmarried status is of growing concern for her family. Eight years ago she was shortly engaged to Captain Frederick Wentworth (Kendall Drury) who she loved dearly but was persuaded by her family and friend Lady Russell (Jodie Sibley) to reject as an unsuitable match. Now, the Elliots’s finances have forced them to move to Bath, letting their house to Admiral Croft (Rod Stewart) and coincidentally inviting Captain Wentworth back into their lives as his brother-in-law. With their situations now reversed, Anne and Frederick must overcome the restrictive customs of their society to reconnect and forgive the many lost years. Tim Luscombe’s 2011 adaptation is faithful to Austen’s original characters and also maintains the pithy social commentary and humour of which her novels are famous.
Set over a period of months, the tension is slow to build and grows in urgency in short moments of misunderstanding or flared feelings as the couple negotiate their new context. What propels the production forward is a collection of side stories from supporting characters such as two equally conniving plots for the Elliots’ reputation from Mrs Clay (Catherine Waters) and William Elliot (Vitas Varnas) or a near death experience from the silly Louisa Musgrove (Charlotte Robertson).
In particular, the squabbles between Mary (Angela Johnston) and her husband Charles Musgrove (Nick Fitzsimmons) produced the most comedic effect. Johnston was hilarious as the snide, selfish, and sarcastic Mary, who always feels hard-done-by. Her facial expressions and animated delivery added a lively warmth and charm to the entire production. Additionally, Sibley was commendable as the persuasive confidante figure with perhaps a more snake-like side than one would expect from the figurative mother.
The leads in Treloar and Drury preserved the Victorian airs of reservation and emotional distance, leaving most of the internal turmoil hinted at but hidden. Their dynamic retained all the customs of Austen’s slow-burn romances until their climatic outpouring that signals a restoration of order for the world of the play. While both long awaited and familiar, their final conversation could have used more drama, or even melodrama, but the delicate touch of Trudy Ritchie’s direction was perhaps more true to life.
With so much distance in space and time to cover, the set design is a simple courtyard appearance with furniture introduced as necessary. Mehran Mortezaei’s does the majority of the lifting in terms of space building to delineate especially between war at sea, wandering English meadows, and Anne’s vivid daydreams. Overall the pacing was akin to consuming a Victorian drama in any form, however, moments of inconsistency or unnecessary delay in things like scene changes left the stage empty more often than usual.
Within the dialogue, direction from Ritchie hit upon Austen’s clever asides and astute readings of character to keep the audience chuckling in even the more serious narrative beats. This skill for translating personalities and forces of human nature into romantic and social dramas is why Austen’s work has endured for the past 200 years to be experienced again and again across venues from Hollywood to the Genesian Theatre tucked away on Kent St.
The production team have composed a good-natured rendition of this classic love story primed for anyone needing a bit of cathartic release through love, loss, and second chances.
Persuasion is running at the Genesian Theatre from June 29th – August 17th