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12:52 GMT, Friday, 4 December 2009

Review: Mansfield Park and Ride

By Wilfred Arasaratnam
Resident of Ipswich

Sally-Ann Burnett as Beethoven

Jane Austen should be well known to many of us.

As well as the original novels which we all should have read, her work has been adapted many times for both TV and film and in some cases, she has inspired films such as Bridget Jones and the Bollywood extravaganza Bride and Prejudice.

However, this December, it sounded like the Eastern Angles was promising to deliver something similar with its production of Mansfield Park and Ride which was something 'a long, long way after Jane Austen'.

I wondered what I would be in for.

As I took my seat on the front row of the audience, I was taunted by Vera Chok's Beggar that I was 'brave'. Was I?

Festive tradition

I had been told that the Eastern Angles' Christmas show was an institution. However, for me, I was both new to this innovative theatre company and its Ipswich home, the Sir John Mills Theatre.

The performance started rather evocatively in Cromer and then we were taken back to this weird alternative reality which sat half way between modern day East Anglia and some bygone place of Austen costume drama.

William Belchambers

This comedic play is like a dramatic fruit salad of Jane Austen. Along with pieces of Pride and Prejudice, there were slices of Sense and Sensibility along with dollops of Persuasion and hints of Emma.

In the first few scenes, we saw the grieving Bonnet family speculate on how they would cope following their father's/husband's passing as the family home would now pass into the hands of the Reverend Weakly.

Impressively, early on in this comedy, the compact yet versatile cast of six burst into song and continued to do so throughout the rest of the play.

I particularly admired Vera Chok who played the Beggar that had taunted me earlier as she also morphed into Lucy Bonnet, Fanny Fitz-Tightly and accompanied the other cast members' songs with her polished piano accompaniment.

Whilst the props and the costume were not remarkable (a fact that Sophie Steer's Lizzie Bonnet complained about in character), I was pleased by the set, sound and lighting design which accurately set the mood for the 10 scenes which made up this play.

I am refusing to divulge any more of the plot in this review because most of the joy from this farce came from the intelligent jokes which either poked fun at the credit crunch or at local events and regional rivals such as Great Yarmouth which allegedly is 'the Bangkok of the Broads' according to William Belchambers' Captain Knightly.

However, if your brain has not been addled by the mulled wine of this festive season then you will also enjoy the gentle humour of sharp word play along with the mocking of convoluted costume drama dialogue and the associated plot coincidences.

This gentle Regency romp is a mature intelligent alternative to the clichéd pantomime and is well worth a look whether you are in Ipswich or Woodbridge where it will be playing until late January.
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Mansfield Park and Ride is on tour around Suffolk until Saturday, 23 January, 2010. Visit the Eastern Angles website for full details.

If you'd like to review a theatre production or gig for us, please email suffolk@bbc.co.uk . We're unable to pay but will provide free tickets.




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Jane Austen's holiday 'romance' (28 May 09 |  Devon )
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Eastern Angles
The Jane Austen Centre


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