Tag Archives: Ciaran Cunningham

Mansfield Park

Mansfield Park


Watermill Theatre

MANSFIELD PARK at the Watermill Theatre


Mansfield Park

“Strong performances by Nicholle Cherrie as Fanny and Anni Domingo as Mary Prince are the heart of this impassioned and enjoyable show.”


‘The stately homes of England / How beautiful they stand / To prove the upper classes / Have still the upper hand’. So sang Noël Coward in a famously ironic lyric about the decline that led to many of these grand houses being left to the National Trust. Jane Austen’s ‘Mansfield Park’ is named after one such house, and was her third novel, published in 1814. As the National Trust has only recently acknowledged, many of these properties are intimately linked with the long and shameful history of British colonialism and enslavement.

Austen wrote her novel at a critical time in the struggle against slavery and it contains many hidden references to it. Austen herself was arguably an abolitionist and one of her favourite poems proclaimed ‘We have no slaves at home – then why abroad?’. The trade in slaves was abolished seven years before she wrote Mansfield Park, but slavery itself was not abolished by Britain until 19 years later.

Austen’s plot concerns a newly wealthy family who own a plantation in Antigua. Young Fanny Price is sent to live with her aunt and uncle at Mansfield Park where she falls in love with a cousin and is the subject of unwelcome attentions from the scheming Henry Crawford. Eventually she marries her cousin Edmund.

Two Gents Company has its roots in Zimbabwe, and in this highly original and provocative adaptation, co-writers and directors Tonderai Munyevu and Arne Pohlmeier place the stain of slavery in the spotlight. Fanny Price’s story is interweaved with that of Mary Prince, the first black woman to publish an autobiography describing her experience as a slave.

The style of the piece is inspired by apartheid era South African workshop theatre. It is being performed outdoors in the Watermill garden and the current run was preceded by a short tour to venues which included Jane Austen’s own house. Props and staging are kept simple and the always-present cast talk directly to the audience. Periodically they drop out of the play to provide commentary on it.

Strong performances by Nicholle Cherrie as Fanny and Anni Domingo as Mary Prince are the heart of this impassioned and enjoyable show. Cherrie’s work as Voice Captain shows in the vivid clarity of her engagement with the audience. In her performance, Fanny is a feisty and assertive woman typified by her exclamation at ‘the pain of falling in love with this wet man!’ Anni Domingo brings great soul and much pathos to her part as the enslaved Mary Prince.

Olivier award-winning Wela Mbusi is a commanding presence and the best cast of three who play the slave-owner Sir Thomas Bertram. In other scenes Mbusi swaps with great agility from male to female character, even playing both sides of a conversation between a man and a woman in one nicely comic scene. The remainder of the cast is made up by the accomplished Velile Tshabalala, who takes on five roles, and by Duramaney Kamara, six.

In Louise Worrall’s conceptually inspired set, on-stage action is literally framed by a great gilt picture frame beneath which a set of glistening white cube shaped furniture evokes the sugar trade.

In the first half I wasn’t at all sure why the play didn’t simply bring to life the important story of Mary Prince instead of mixing it in with this less impressive example of Jane Austen’s ‘sweet tooth for love and marriage’. But in the second half the tension within and between the two parallel stories comes to the fore with some winningly powerful writing and performance.

This interesting and polemical play ends with a passionate defence of the ‘woke’ in a scene in which Mary Prince and Jane Austen meet. ‘Beneath it all there’s blood, real blood. That blood is in our memory.’



Reviewed on 29th July 2023

by David Woodward

Photography by Nigel Glasgow



Previously reviewed at this venue:


Rapunzel | ★★★★ | November 2022
Whistle Down The Wind | ★★★★ | July 2022
Spike | ★★★★ | January 2022
Brief Encounter | ★★★ | October 2021

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Orange Tree Theatre



Orange Tree Theatre

Reviewed – 11th September 2019



“a brilliant piece of writing, but its formal dazzle ultimately detracts from its emotional resonance”


In February of this year, The Guardian ran an article charting the rise of anti-Semitism across Europe. France reported a 74% increase in the number of offences against Jews in 2018 and Germany said the number of violent antisemitic attacks had surged by more than 60%. Here in the UK, the Community Security Trust (CST) – which monitors anti-Semitism among the Jewish community in Britain – said the 892 incidents so far reported this year mark a 10% increase on the same period last year. Islamophobia too is on the rise, and the disturbing trend of xenophobia and intolerance is being felt sharply by immigrants and the LGBTQ community Europe-wide. Against this backdrop, Orange Tree Theatre’s programming of Maya Arad Yasur’s 2018 play Amsterdam couldn’t be more timely.

By tracing the origin of an unpaid gas bill, which our unnamed protagonist finds herself having to deal with, Yasur invites us to look again at the devastation of the Jewish population of the Netherlands, 75% of whom were killed in the Holocaust, and also to consider the polyglot nature of modern Europe, and what it means to be an immigrant. She doesn’t forget that Jews and Arabs are each Semitic peoples, and in an early scene in a supermarket queue we are made aware of the shared experience of a woman wearing a hijab and our Jewish protagonist; of the exhaustion of the continual awareness of the second-guessing of one’s identity – ‘She’s thinking he’s thinking she’s thinking’ – and the weight of being viewed as a representative – ‘Why do I carry around this flag wherever I go?’.

Yasur has quite rightly chosen to address the palimpsest of European history with a degree of formal experimentation, recognising that this complex layering of experience, these different voices and memories, demand a non-linear narrative language. The text is shared by four actors, who tease out its meaning, tossing phrases between themselves like a ball, dancing with repetitions and tangents, punctuating with amplified Dutch phrases, leading us along the circuitous paths of this city and its history, toward a final narrative revelation and resolution.

Amsterdam is a demanding watch, and requires intellectual concentration. Such theatrical moments as there are are few and far between, and seem grafted on to the text to throw the audience a bone rather than stemming organically from the words themselves. The text is king here. And Matthew Xia (director) isn’t quite brave enough to let it fully reign. The success of The Brothers Size at the Young Vic in 2017 showed that London audiences can do stripped back, and this production could have followed its example. The chain metal curtain, the chairs, the glasses; all seemed superfluous, clumsy and dead, in contrast to the living, shape-shifting text, which is its own illustration. Similarly, this is a piece in which the performers are storytellers, not actors, and the show would have benefited from less verbal demonstration. Asking an actor not to act is difficult, but less is more in this instance, and the text didn’t need as much help as they gave it.

Amsterdam is a brilliant piece of writing, but its formal dazzle ultimately detracts from its emotional resonance. ‘No-one wants to hear about the Jews anymore’ our protagonist states, and Yasur’s writing is fierce in its counter-attack. But these words need to be felt; not merely heard. Theatre at its best can hit the heart, and Amsterdam, to its detriment, leaves this power unharnessed.


Reviewed by Andrew Wright

Photography by Helen Murray



Orange Tree Theatre until 12th October



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