Mansfield Park King’s Theatre

There is definitely something about some stories that renders them timeless, rewritten from generation to generation to keep pace with changes in lifestyles, but retaining the same lessons, morals, dilemmas and outcomes. Perhaps that is why Jane Austen's novel ‘Mansfield Park’, written two centuries ago, remains as popular today as it was when it was first published and stage adaptations draw enthusiastic audiences whenever it is performed.

The production being performed at Edinburgh’s Kings Theatre is on its second tour, the first being in 2012, and visits 11 venues in 11 weeks; surely that is a clear indication of the popularity and longevity of the story, which is not even Austen’s best known work!

Mansfield Park is the story of a young girl, Fanny Price, uprooted from her humble family home and taken into the aristocratic household of her uncle Sir Thomas Bertram (Richard Heap). She slowly becomes accustomed to being openly belittled by her ‘Aunt Norris’ (Julie Teal), but retains a sense of goodness which is very apparent and helps her make the important decision when it comes to the difficult question of marriage.

Produced by the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds, the adaptation is by Tim Luscombe and directed by Colin Blumenau who, along with the set and lighting designers, have risen to the challenge of depicting a work many in the audience will have read many times. Their task will not have been made any easier when you realise that the original work is narrated by the central character Fanny Price, played by Ffion Jolly. They have however done an excellent job.

The small cast of eight play 16 characters between them with, apparently, some fast and complex costume changes backstage to ensure they make their entrance on cue. Perhaps for this reason, parts of the play are quite ‘slick’, whilst at other points it is decidedly slow. The very simple set design makes for an easy transition and the whole production utilises almost no props. Instead, all the detail is in the period costumes and in the dialogue, which is also in the language of the era (although for me this made some of the plot a little more difficult to follow that it might have been). The story is well told and the moral dilemmas it presents are almost as common today as they were in the early 19th Century. Where things differ from today however is perhaps in the social customs amongst the aristocracy of the time, with marrying for money being seen as more important than for love.

In summary then, this is a very well-produced play which tells a timeless story rather well and ought not to disappoint any Austen purists with its slightly modernised take on the classic work.

Charlie Cavaye