The Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester; Thursday 1st June, 2017
“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope … I have loved none but you.”
– Jane Austen, Persuasion
We all know how Jane Austen novels work: women everywhere swoon at the heart-wrenching romance of it all, some grimace alarmingly at the actual horror of being single and unmarried etc; men everywhere just shrug their shoulders and switch the Playstation on, some might bother to read the book, but only in the vain hope that it could help them to pull.
Two centuries have now passed since her death, and though Austen is still a deserved and viable challenger for a top-four finish in English literature’s premier league, men everywhere know that you’d better give anything with her name on it a very wide berth – unless you happen to be the kind of guy who is genuinely interested in what she thinks about what he said when she thought that he was trying to say that he really liked her but she was really confused because he didn’t seem to show much interest but then just because he went for a horse ride with Sir Pompous McStuffington doesn’t mean he’s not interested so she shouldn’t read too much into it and maybe if she just stopped staring out of a window all day and over-analysing every little fucking thing then life would be a hell of a lot less complicated?
Jeff James’ adaptation of Persuasion at Manchester’s Royal Exchange genuinely threatened to be like that night many years ago when you stupidly agreed to go and watch Bridget Jones’ Diary – you only did it because you knew all the women were loving it and you figured it was best to know what they’re all banging on about.
But incredibly, though it clearly has the diabolically intolerable plot of Austen’s novel running right through it, James’ production is not in any way a lady play. Instead, this is a work of triumphant comedy genius, the production team may not have meant it that way, but it really is stupidly funny.
What’s happened here is that someone’s only gone and staged a stuffy old period drama using a cast who look and behave as if they’re filming an episode of Hollyoaks. The result is satirical entertainment of the highest quality, just like when 1980’s movie Airplane! took on the Hollywood disaster movie genre and turned piss-taking into a new art form.
In a very modern and understandable way, the performance delivers a whole load of decent banter – essentially the whole thing is about some freaks who are having it large on a night out in Bath, looking to get laid. I’ve never been to Bath, but I’m now very certain that I must go, preferably on a Saturday night, and definitely in a club that does foam parties.
The cast rattle through the plot at a fast pace, perfect for those who hate soppy love stories! It’s almost as if the plot is just being used as a vehicle for creating lots of salacious entertainment. Devout Jane Austen extremists will be outraged by this play; Bridget Jones fans everywhere will choke on their prosseco and demand more scenes depicting emotional struggle. But the majority of audiences will rejoice, finally theatre is catering for the silent masses. This is the kind of thing that will make theatre great again.
Every man who is sick of his Mrs banging on about feelings and stuff should immediately book tickets to see this play. Not only will you have a decent laugh while she has the chance to get all teary-eyed at the beautiful romance, you’ll be a fucking hero for being into culture and shit.