I think we must raise a little theatre at Mansfield…
Jane Austen spends several chapters of Mansfield Park describing the preparations for a performance of Lovers’ Vows by Elizabeth Inchbald. With Papa away several young Austenite characters are twiddling their thumbs in a mansion and decide to stage some amateur dramatics. Mansfield presents Lovers’ Vows takes this episode as its subject, pulling back the curtain and looking at the interaction between the young men and women (and one aunt) as they come alive on stage at Paradise in Augustine’s.
Charlotte Productions’ Mansfield presents Lovers’ Vows continues their light-hearted approach to history. We have the classic play within a play setup, so we watch the actors stepping on and off an onstage-stage on which they play their Lovers’ Vows’ characters. Each actor therefore is playing two characters, firstly their character in Mansfield Park, and then that character’s character in Lovers’ Vows. The acting when in this double character is often over-the-top and declamatory – actors playing amateur to reflect the abilities of Edmund, Tom et al.
The cast were all standing on stage as the audience filed in, a welcoming attitude that added to the sense that we were in their home watching a spot of am dram. The costumes appear well researched and the height of fashion – indeed it seems time to bring them back to the High Street. If I had my way everyone would be wearing cravats and knee-length britches. Except for the ladies. Unless they wanted to. We soon learn that putting on the Mansfield amateur dramatics is a struggle. There is an interfering aunt to deal with, who brings a dose of humour to the play, apart from when she is badmouthing Fanny. There are the opinions of an absent father to consider, especially when the theme of Lovers’ Vows is examined. It’s a play featuring illegitimate children – not at all what an 18th century father would like his daughters to be acting in.
This is not an attempt to theatricalise the entire book. Mansfield Park is many people’s (including the playwright Laura Witz’s) least favourite Austen novel. Witz has used one scene in the book to try and learn more about the novel. She starts the play with a long letter being read out. As each of the characters are mentioned they move to the front of the stage, helping the audience to identify the protagonists.
Charlotte Productions specialises in adaptations of period literature written by women. Mansfield presents Lovers’ Vows is not an out and out comedy, but neither is it a completely straight drama. It will appeal to Jane Austen lovers who know the scene in Mansfield Park and will relish the extra focus that the play brings to a difficult book.
13th-17th August at 12.05pm
Paradise in Augustine’s
I think we must raise a little theatre at Mansfield