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The Watsons


Menier Chocolate Factory

The Watsons

The Watsons

Menier Chocolate Factory

Reviewed – 1st October 2019



“witty and intelligent in a way that both complements and complicates Austen”


Emma Woodhouse is one of Jane Austen’s most beloved characters – but what of Emma Watson? Austen abandoned her first Emma, heroine of the unfinished novel The Watsons, in 1805. Since then, several authors have sought to give Emma the ending she deserves.

Laura Wade is the latest writer to undertake the challenge, though she has the distinction of being a playwright rather than a novelist. Nor is she a relative of Austen’s, as many early contributors to The Watsons were. But, despite her apparent distance, Wade is more deeply involved than any of her predecessors.

Emma Watson (Grace Molony) was sent to live with her aunt as a child and now returns, aged nineteen, to the modest family estate. Sent straight into society, she soon has the attentions of three local men. But, just as she accepts a proposal from awkward aristocrat Lord Osborne (Joe Bannister), Laura (Louise Ford) bursts into the story to stop Emma making a terrible mistake. What follows is the story that Laura wants to tell, the story behind the telling of it, and the story of the characters that won’t let her have her way.

Even for those who aren’t Austen fans (me), The Watsons is a joy to watch. Wade’s script is witty and intelligent in a way that both complements and complicates Austen. She adds plenty of commentary, some of it topical, but much of it personal, about the struggle to write and the pressure of storytelling. In mixing her story with Austen’s, she manages to preserve what is special about the original work whilst amplifying it to new heights.

But what of the all-important end? Wade leaves us with just a taster of what is to come, but no more. Her strategy for finishing the story is as smart as the story itself, but does feel a tad rushed. There is not much insight given as to why Emma chooses to give Laura back control. I can only assume that she felt lost or afraid, but this is just speculation. A definite answer could really have cemented this, and given the audience a greater sense of Emma’s inner self.

One thing that cannot be faulted is the acting. There is not a single performance that does not hit its mark. Molony is a brilliant heroine, at once endearing and infuriating as she demands the right to tell her own story – at any cost. Louise Ford is so convincing a Laura that, for a second, you forget that there is another Laura, writing this Laura and everything else that’s going on. It is hard to choose the highlights of the remaining cast. Performances that immediately spring to mind are Jane Booker’s haughty Lady Osborne, Sally Bankes’ no nonsense Nanny, and Sophie Duval’s Mrs Robert – who, despite being ‘not in it very much’ makes her presence felt at all times. Credit must also be given to designer Ben Stones, whose blank page of a stage is the perfect space for Wade’s experimentation.

Despite initial reservations, this is one of the most enjoyable pieces of theatre I have seen in a while, full of energy and wit that even Austen herself would have found impressive. And I think I quite like Jane Austen now, which means that, not only has Laura Wade written an excellent play, she has done the impossible.



Reviewed by Harriet Corke

Photography by Manuel Harlan


The Watsons

Menier Chocolate Factory until 16th November


Previously reviewed at this venue:
The Gronholm Method | ★★★★ | May 2018
Fiddler on the Roof | ★★★★★ | December 2018
The Bay At Nice | ★★½ | March 2019
Orpheus Descending  | ★★★★ | May 2019


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The Rink – 4 Stars


The Rink

Southwark Playhouse

Reviewed – 29th May 2018


“The action switches from past to present with alarming frequency but Adam Lenson’s polished direction never leaves us in any doubt as to where we are”


We’ve all had that moment, when having to pack up a room or leave a house; and each possession, as it gets boxed up, can transport us back in time. What should be a straightforward task becomes an extended stroll down memory lane. We know we are squandering hours that could be put to better use, but still relishing every moment. Kander and Ebb’s musical “The Rink” takes this as its central theme and has a similar effect: you feel as though you should be doing something more important yet, within minutes, you are absorbed and let yourself be swept along by the Proustian reminiscences of the lead characters.

Anna is the owner of a dilapidated roller skating rink on the boardwalk of a decaying seaside resort, who has decided to sell it to developers. Her plans are complicated when her estranged daughter, Angel, returns home after a seven-year absence seeking to reconnect with the people and places she left behind and to patch things up with her mother. Through a series of flashbacks and revelations, the two of them deal with their pasts in their attempt to reconcile and move on with their lives. The action switches from past to present with alarming frequency but Adam Lenson’s polished direction never leaves us in any doubt as to where we are.

There is a nod to Sondheim’s “Follies”, though with less depth. Terrence McNally’s book is a somewhat slim affair and so the onus needs to ride on Kander and Ebb’s score and the performances. Caroline O’Connor’s Anna (pronounced ‘Honour’, deliberately or not, in this version with the slightly overdone accents) is a powerhouse of a performance, slipping seamlessly from her acerbic dialogue into stirring song. Gemma Sutton is the perfect foil as the prodigal, rebellious daughter and, as her character’s name suggests, has the voice of an angel.

They both possess the wit and comic timing required for the roles, which is matched by the strong support of the male ensemble. Stewart Clarke is in remarkably fine voice as the wayward, absent husband and father figure, and Ross Dawes as the ‘voice-of-conscience’ grandfather is quite compelling – not to mention his show stopping moves on roller skates. The close-knit cast make Fabian Aloise’s innovative choreography seem easy. Accompanied by a seven-piece band (though sounding like a much fuller orchestra) they skate, dance, laugh, cry and sing through the magnificent, yet seldom revived score. Like the abandoned rink of the title, it has been neglected for too long and this return to the stage is a welcome reminder of Kander and Ebb’s magic.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Darren Bell


The Rink

Southwark Playhouse until 23rd June


Also by Kander & Ebb
Chicago | ★★★★ | Phoenix Theatre | April 2018



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