Miss Marchbanks

Wed 15th – Sat 18th August 2012

reviews

Anwen Jones

at 09:47 on 17th Aug 2012

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As a fan of Austen novels and the petticoats, unspoken romances and the father/daughter relationships that punctuate every story, I was greatly looking forward to the performance of Miss Marchbanks.

Opening with a middle-aged man with Bradley Wiggin’s-esque sideburns, pocket watch and breeches I knew I had come to the right place. Mr Marchbank (Dave Coates) resembles an almost more nonchalant Mr Bennet and the arrival of his recently educated daughter Miss Marchbanks is merely acknowledged with ‘Oh, Lucilla…’ And so the play begins as the quests and desires of the well-spoken, propriety driven Miss Marchbanks (Lorna Stephen) unravel in her small but quaint parlour much to the distress/annoyance of her blasé father - a rather generic backdrop for a Victorian play.

The play is not merely governed by lengthy phrases and sentences ending in ‘ma’am’ or ‘pray do tell’ however. With characters such as Mrs Chiley (Ellen McNicoll) and Mrs Mortimer (Eliza Scriven) Laura Witz, the writer, has created personalities that are hilarious in an understated, almost unplanned, way. Chiley’s obvious prudishness combined with her lack of subtlety, in addition to her hilarious facial expressions, warrants a number of laughs from the audience. Similarly, praise should be given to Scriven for making a role with so few lines into one of the most memorable through her skilled portrayal of an anxious, weak and ridiculously soft-spoken woman with side-splitting expressions and turn of phrase. These two actors stand out.

That is not to say that the rest of the cast were not great. However, for many, in particular Miss Marchbanks and Nicholls, there appears to be a lack of clarity in speech causing some words to be lost on the audience as intonation slips at the end of phrases. This applies to the majority of the cast – the projection and clear pronunciation of lines could certainly be improved. In addition, the play is fairly long. I partly attribute this to the difficulties in staging a play taken from a Victorian-based novel; the language, slow moving action and petty quarrels or tension do not necessarily suit or, for that matter, fill a stage. At times, because of this, the progression of the play seems somewhat slow and stunted.

Nevertheless, Miss Marchbanks is a competent production with a competent cast. For what it is – a Victorian drama about the local election – it is well-thought out with entertaining characterisation and cleverly written phrases. Not a bad effort from Charlotte Productions and worth seeing if you, like me, can’t resist a few floor-length dresses with hideous bonnets, expressions of ‘true love’ by slightly feeble males and the distinctive self-confidence of a young woman who has not yet ‘seen the world’ though they act as if they have.

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Lucinda Higgie

at 10:25 on 17th Aug 2012

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'DO YOU LIKE CRANFORD?' asks one of the banners on the Royal Mile. It is promoting 'Miss Marchbanks', A Charlotte Productions Production. This isn't false advertising: this play, based on Margaret Oliphant's 1866 novel, and the BBC adaptation of Gaskell's novel both take a more light-hearted, gently teasing approach to Victorian society than many of their contemporaries. So the play is not supposed to be hard-hitting by any means. However, in its dealings with women's liberty, regional politics and bankruptcy, I feel the stakes should have been higher; that this could have been an opportunity for greater variety in tone in a play that was otherwise somewhat timid and repetitive.

The entirety of the play takes place in Lucilla Marchbank's (Lorna Stephen) living room, and this setting works well within the tiny space of Paradise in the Vault. The actors' projection is, despite the venue's size, lackluster at best. Lorna Stephen, who otherwise fits the role nicely, seems to be intently focused on her accent, yet speaks so softly that the audience has to strain to hear her. She continually drops the end of her lines to the point that what she says is often completely inaudible. This might improve if the pacing of the play were sped up: the timing, particularly in dialogue, needs to be sharpened. There are, of course, a plethora of bonnets and bodices to gaze at if and in general the costumes are pretty impressive, especially for a student production. On the other hand, the sound recordings that are included leave much to be desired: in particular, the harmonies and tone of the voices on the sound recording are odd to the point of anachronism. With a bit more static, they wouldn't have sounded out of place in a David Lynch film.

As it stands, the play is somewhat lacking in vitality. There are exceptions to this. I enjoyed Eliza Scriven's performance as wide-eyed, perturbed widow Mrs Mortimer, whose delivery consistently got the biggest laughs. Harry Fenton was genuinely quite moving as Tom, and I was very surprised to read in the programme that this is Dave Coates' (Mr Marchbanks) 'first proper acting role'.

Ultimately, the resolution of technical issues and a greater focus on communicating the play's various levels would improve this production.

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