Review: ★★★★ Persuasion, Playground Theatre

Review: ★★★★ Persuasion, Playground Theatre

With classics that have been adapted and reformulated so many times, one of the most important concerns for new adaptations is finding a balance between the familiar and the innovative. Stephanie Dale’s version of Persuasion manages this easily, using music and monologues to add a new layer to the story, but keeping mostly faithful to the original work. The play tells the well-known story of Anne Elliot and Frederick Wentworth who meet again eight years after a broken engagement.

The musical elements, composed by Maria Haïk Escuerdo, are performed by the actors themselves, using instruments that form a part of the set. The music is mostly used as a backdrop to Anne’s monologues, which reveal her hidden emotions, or as an interlude played over the scene changes. The most impressive addition of music is a repeated theme that represents Anne and Wentworth’s relationship, which becomes an integral part of the adapted plot. Escuerdo also combines the sounds of the sea with the music and fragments of speech to express the turbulent emotions of Anne as well as providing a kind of flashback to their previous relationship.

The major changes to the original story occur because of the small size of the cast and because most actors play multiple roles, so some scenes have been changed to accommodate the fact that two characters can’t both appear onstage at the same time. These changes were subtle and well implemented, and the way the actors moved between roles was very impressive. The changes were indicated by a change of accessories or additions to the costumes, so it was sometimes difficult to keep track of the changes between some characters, but the performances for each character were very distinct and it became easier to tell everyone apart as the play progressed. Stephanie Dale also chose to add a couple of scenes which illustrate Anne and Wentworth’s early relationship, which she cleverly entwines with the main plot. This gives additional importance to the musical sequences and provides an underlying meaning to the dialogue.

There are a couple of odd moments, the first occurring when one of the children gets injured and Anne has to look after him. There isn’t an actor to play the child and they use a puppet instead, which is operated by one of the other actors. This was a bit surreal and might have limited the audience’s immersion slightly because it felt like everyone was slightly less focused on the performance because of the distraction of the puppet. There was also a moment where Ceri-Lyn Cissone, who plays Anne, moved outside of the limits that had been set during the rest of the performance, addressing the musicians directly even though they had been in the background throughout. This worked well to demonstrate Anne’s inner turmoil, but only once you were sure that it was intentional and not a mistake.

This production carefully balances familiar and original, and is particularly impressive because of the small cast. Every member plays an integral part and they all carry off their various roles faultlessly, moving between emotional and comedic scenes and roles. The addition of music showcases the extra talents of the actors, who all play at least one instrument, as well as providing an interesting way of expressing the characters’ feelings.

Dates for Persuasion are as follows: 

PLAYGROUND THEATRE, London

17 – 28 April 2018

THE WARREN: THE HAT, Brighton

8 – 9 May, 13 – 14 May 2018

GUILDFORD, Mill Studio

10 – 12 May 2018

MARINE THEATRE, Lyme Regis

18 – 19 May 2018

THE THEATRE, Chipping Norton

22 May 2018

THEATRE ROYAL WINDSOR

23 – 26 May 2018

DORCHESTER ARTS

30 May 2018

Emma Grimsley

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