Fringe Box



Review: Emma – Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Published on: 31 May, 2017
Updated on: 31 May, 2017

Emma played by Bethan Nash

By Ferenc Hepp

I was an “Emma virgin” before Tuesday evening (May 30, 2017).

This put me at a disadvantage according to Tim Luscombe, who adapted the famous novel for this production. He said: “…those who are Emma virgins should be privy to things that are going on as they happen, given that people tend to not to see a play multiple times, …those who’ve already read the novel will be familiar with the ending and so won’t mind if I move things around.”

Unfortunately, with the style of this adaptation, staged by The Production Exchange and directed by Colin Blumenau, my Emma virginity remains mostly intact.

Jane Austen’s classic story, which has enjoyed numerous adaptations for the small and big screen, and stage, was first published in 1815 and explores the lives of well-to-do families of Regency England, concentrating on the protagonist, Emma Woodhouse (Bethan Nash) whose attempts at matchmaking end up going not quite in the direction that she intends.

The characters, the era, the language and the costumes are kept in the Regency and Austen style, which normally pleases me as I am quite a traditionalist; but the set design by Libby Watson is confusing.

The action takes place either on an oval walkway which opens up on two sides to create the impression of going indoors, however, sometimes characters just step in or out from the walkway, ignoring the hatch on either side, sometimes this hatch is opened or closed for no apparent reason taking away the focus from the action and sometimes scene changes involve ‘reaching through’ the imaginary wall between the inside and out.

There is also a matching oval shaped structure hanging from the fly tower with pretty lights which only lowers at the very end of the play, for no apparent reason. The set is completed by what looks like a hurriedly painted backdrop to represent the Surrey countryside.

The scene is set with a musical underscore at the start of the play which unfortunately makes it difficult to hear and understand what is being said for the first 10 minutes or so before we get into the ‘action’.

Nash as Emma does mischievous well and we do see a journey in her character from the beginning when she states: “It’s not within me to fall in love” to the twist at the end.

George Kemp is very believable as the charming Frank Churchill who has a secret to hide, however, I was desperately looking for some humour in the piece and the only person who provides this is Hannah Genesius as Mrs Elton. She comes across as cheeky, sarcastic and being more informative than she pretends to be, as she likes a good gossip. A well-needed light relief and little laughter.

Sadly this production has not inspired me to explore the story of Emma further. The cast does well with what they have to work with but this production is lacking excitement, humour and pace, and did not grab my interest.

Emma runs until Saturday, June 3 and tickets are available via the website: or by calling the box office on: 01483 440000.

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