Austen the Musical
Bread & Roses Theatre
Reviewed – 16th January 2018
“Edith Kirkwood manages to embody both the warmth and ferocity of Jane with commanding presence”
Despite being one the greatest romance writers of all time Jane Austen didn’t have the most successful love life, and in this ninety minute musical Rob Winlow examines the highs and lows of her dating history.
Playing Miss Austen is Edith Kirkwood, who manages to embody both the warmth and ferocity of Jane with commanding presence. Thomas Hewitt demonstrated an impressive vocal talent in his many roles, and although his portrayal of Jane’s first love interest Tom Lefroy felt a little flat he more than made up for it in the characters that followed.
Jenni Lea-Jones was a real standout as Mrs Austen, her clipped and lovingly judgemental tone was very reminiscent of Mrs Bennet and her voice was as strong as her characterisation. Adam Grayson was very warm and likeable as Jane’s father and one could really sense the bond between the two.
A particularly enjoyable scene depicted Mr Austen receiving rejections for his daughter’s works from snobby publishers (played excellently by Hewitt and Lea-Jones). Apart from another scene where Jane is bombarded with story suggestions from the public, there isn’t a lot about the response to her works. It would have been nice to hear more about her professional accomplishments, interesting as her personal life was.
Timothy Trimingham Lee’s direction allows the cast to navigate around the small stage area well, in particular during an amusing scene in which Jane attempts to escape from the hilariously creepy Reverend Blackall (Hewitt) during a ball.
The pace does feel uneven at points, particularly during a long dialogue between Jane and Dr Preston (Hewitt), but overall the writing feels grounded in reality despite the musical elements. The score has some powerful moments, particularly when the cast’s vocals are layered together. The duet between Tom Lefroy and Jane blended the actors’ voices together beautifully.
Arlene McNaught plays both the role of musical director and Cassandra Austen, Jane’s sister. Given that so much of what we know about Jane comes from letters between the sisters it felt very fitting that she would be ever present at the back of the stage. McNaught plays the piano and observes events silently, only interacting with the cast when she comforts Jane after their father’s death.
Though the final song, sung by Mrs Austen moments after Jane has passed away, was touching I was surprised that the show ended there. Perhaps a song about Jane’s legacy and accomplishments would have created a more positive impact on the audience rather than the slightly sombre mood we were left with.
This show is a great experience for anyone who’s curious about Jane Austen’s life, made even more enjoyable by the musical numbers and spot-on characterisation.
Reviewed by Ella McCarron
Austen the Musical
Bread & Roses Theatre until 20th January