ONEOHONE presents Jane Austen's 'Emma'

Thu 14th November 2013

reviews

Lucy Rayfield

at 09:56 on 15th Nov 2013

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Oneohone Theatre Co. did not fail to impress with their production of Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’, performed in Blackwell’s Norrington Room. Emma Woodhouse, well-known as a rich though spoilt matchmaker, is joined by a host of charismatic individuals as she attempts to assist them on the path to true love. The performance, skilfully directed by Asia Osbourne, made for a thoroughly interesting modern adaptation of the classic tale.

I must say that the experience was a first for me. I had expected a straightforward performance of a well-known story, but it quickly turned out that audience participation was key: alongside the plot, Emma sought to involve members of the audience in her matchmaking schemes, even partnering up spectators whom she deemed to be suitable matches.

Upon my arrival I was personally greeted by Emma herself, who was brimming over with excitement as she hustled me to my seat and thrust me a questionnaire. Sitting down, I found myself part of what almost resembled a dinner party, hosted by the overanimated Emma. The spectators around me were busy ticking boxes and filling in gaps; I glanced at the questions to see that I had to inform Emma of my favourite romantic hotspot and chat-up line. Quick blasts of cheesy love songs (such as ‘Hero’ by Enrique Iglesias) signalled that the show was about to begin. Emma and her best friend Hetty (known in the original tale as Harriet Smith), after discussing their own love interests, began to single out members of the audience by reading out their answers to the questionnaire. Spectators were invited to tell the full story of their worst first date, imitate owls and even get up to do Irish dancing. We were then instructed to sit next to someone we didn’t know and extract an embarrassing fact from them to be related back to the audience. A loose adaptation of Austen’s storyline intermingled with more audience activities including dancing to Ceilidh music, acting out the ideal romantic setting (I was a palm tree) and describing our perfect partner to the person sitting next to us, who was to sketch said partner with their eyes shut. The evening was fun, relaxed and extremely interactive- there was never a dull moment (though I rather dreaded being singled out in front of everyone!).

Whilst the plot was clearly far removed from the original text, several ideas and morals of Austen’s ‘Emma’ remained present: the difficulties in finding one’s soulmate, for example, and a warning against meddling in the affairs of others. The characterisation too was interesting. Although Austen had famously written that Emma was a heroine "whom no one but myself will much like”, the modern Emma was on the contrary quite frankly hilarious: Elle Rushton, who plays her, is certainly a talented performer. Other personal favourites included Simon Blake (who played Gus, a nerdy though wholly lovable character, invented for the purpose of the adaptation) and Brian McMahon (who played George Knightley), whose improvisation and comic timing was spot on. Hetty (played by Beth Eyre) was a good foil to Emma and very enthusiastic; Frank Churchill (played by Jamie Laird) made a spectacular entrance, and was worryingly similar to how I’d imagined Austen’s creation to be.

Oneohone’s ‘Emma’ was on the whole highly engaging and well-executed. It is perhaps unsuited to the spectator searching for a faithful recreation of Austen’s novel; however, I would thoroughly recommend it to the normal theatregoer, not just a performance, but as an experience.

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