Emma, Norwich

CHARLES ROBERTS Jane Austen's characters, their manners and mores, may seem worlds away from us today. But, as this production effortlessly reminds us, human nature and desire is changeless – we identify all the way.

CHARLES ROBERTS

Jane Austen's characters, their manners and mores, may seem worlds away from us today. But, as this production effortlessly reminds us, human nature and desire is changeless – we identify all the way.

What, by degrees, becomes warmly acceptable is that, despite period costume and a fascinatingly simple set which allows seasonal vistas into the distance, director Sue Pomeroy has subtly managed to bring a touch of modernism into her Austen world – as does the adaptation text, by Miss Pomeroy and Dennis Saunders.

It does not matter there are word patterns which are quite out of time and place, that physical contact such as we see here would have been unacceptable in polite society; or that wispy chairs would have found little favour in Georgian drawing rooms.


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For these touches, inexplicably, help us to feel more at home, and to empathise with Emma's rural world. As Jane wrote: “Three or four Families in a Country Village is the very thing to work on.”

And of course she was right – how could this ironical genius not be? For what she creates in Emma is a microcosm of gentry life in her day.

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The transplant from novel to stage works beautifully, enveloping us in the atmosphere, morals and emotions while providing much to amuse.

Laura Howard is Emma, projecting a bright, acute sun around whom all revolves. She positively glows, her radiance so illuminating the action, one could swear the lights dim when she disappears from view. This is what Austen must have been like.

In a cast to whom one would like to throw several bouquets, Sally Ann Burnett doubles in two vastly different characters – the adorably irritating Miss Bates and the purely vulgar Mrs Elton. She pulls off both of them with comic elan and perfect timing.

t Emma continues at Norwich Theatre Royal until Saturday, September 14. Box office: 01603 630000.

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