Persuasion review – Theatre at the Tabard

Image above: Persuasion; Theatre at the Tabard

By Simon Thomsett

As the Chiswick Book Festival comes to an end the Theatre at the Tabard keeps the spirit alive with a run of Dot Productions’ staging of Jane Austen’s Persuasion which has just opened.  The adaptation by Dawn Bush nips along at pace and somehow in 90 minutes of playing time gets through the main events of the story with an enthusiastic cast of just five, three of whom swop roles throughout.

At the centre of the story is Anne Elliot, living reluctantly in Bath (“It’s always wet”) and apparently given up on love, not exactly helped by her excessively vain father who, when he can tear himself away from the mirror taunts her: ‘you’ll never catch a husband…’

Enter Captain Wentworth, a face from the past and one who was rejected then and still bears the scars. His discomfort in encountering the rather aloof Anne is put aside when he is aggressively pursued by Louisa Musgrove, one of the many supporting group of friends and family who populate the sub-plot heavy background.

Images above: Anne and Louisa; Wentworth and Louisa; Theatre at the Tabard

Susie Garvey-Williams as Anne, is on stage throughout and watches over events; she does stoical very well but isn’t really stretched, even as the odds begin to stack up against any possible happy outcome for her.

The same can be said for Dom Thomson’s Wentworth who is called upon mostly to stand straight and look dashing, although he gets to add a flick of his hair and a wink at the audience at one point.

Image above: Sophie Todd and Matthew Burcombe; Theatre at the Tabard

More fun is to be had with the other characters: Sophie Todd whose ever smiling Louisa threatens to ensnare Wentworth is matched by the elaborately be-wigged Matthew Burcombe who starts out as Anne’s father and then changes in and out of other parts, frantically trying to keep up with his role changes with knowing confusion and a pleasing pomposity.

Best of all is Holly Barnes who excels as hypochondriac Mary Musgrove and a practical Mrs Croft, topping it all off with a later appearance complete with comedy moustache as another charming young gentleman whose motives are suspect at best.

Pete Gallagher’s production has other nice touches, not least the in jokes shared with the audience, nods and winks and feigned confusion as to where and even who they are at any one moment gives the show a lightness of touch that seems just right.

It all gets a bit too fussy on occasion, in particular when pieces of furniture are shifted hither and thither rather distractingly, but overall, the effect is gently enjoyable. I imagine that Austen fans will find much to enjoy, and it looks likely to be another popular choice for the Tabard.

Persuasion runs to Saturday 7 October.

Simon Thomsett

Simon Thomsett has worked in the professional theatre for a number of years. He started out as a stage manager and technician then became a venue director and producer, notably at the Hackney Empire, Fairfield Halls and most recently the New Victoria Theatre in Woking.

Since leaving full time work last year, he is now working as a consultant and on some small scale producing projects. He is a Chiswick resident and a passionate advocate for great theatre.