Mansfield Park

This was a very tight production, with a cast of just five incredibly talented actors"

Last night’s entertainment was an open air performance in the beautiful gardens of the Watermill Theatre near Newbury. This was a joint production from the Watermill and Two Gents, and gives a modern twist on Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park.

It’s fresh from a tour around Hampshire, Wiltshire, Berkshire and Oxfordshire, taking quality theatre to various village halls and country gardens, another example of the Watermill celebrating inclusivity and accessibility. It’s a crying shame they recently lost their Arts Council funding, but it’s heartening to see them rise to the challenge, and prove ACE wrong. Let’s hope ACE change their minds very soon!

Young Fanny Price is sent to live with her wealthy cousins at Mansfield Park, where she meets the frivolous Crawfords. This introduces her, and also us, to a typical Jane Austen world of unrequited love and decadence.

Fanny is led astray. However, her uncle’s departure to visit his plantation in Antigua forces her to confront the source of her family’s wealth.

This collaboration with Two Gents Productions, fuses European regency with a Trans-Atlantic chorus for a fresh take on Jane Austen’s classic and an honest look at our country’s colonial past.

This was a very tight production, with a cast of just five incredibly talented actors, Nicholle Cherrie, Anni Domingo, Duramaney Kamara, Wela Mbusi, and Velile Tshabalala taking on between them at least 17 named parts plus a chorus!

This is all performed in the gardens on a simple stage set, with a gilt frame and some white blocks, which were moved by the cast, and symbolised sugar cubes - or the sugar from the sugar plantation in Antigua.

The cast are all fabulous, a truly ensemble cast, veering from their various parts by using gloves, waistcoats, and so on to great affect, often with humour, and sometimes with real pathos, such as Anni’s measured use of tying her headscarf whenever she became Mary Prince, the real life former slave, whose story was expertly intertwined with Jane Austen’s story of frivolity and decadence.

It was a challenging production, questioning the source of much of our country’s wealth, and questioning whether the likes of Jane Austen, in not writing about the purpose of the visit to Antigua, were complicit in slavery. Jane herself answers the criticisms in this production, and highlights that she puts a number of clues about her anti-slavery views in her novels, but that as a female novelist, in that time, was hampered by the discriminatory attitudes, so she pleads that she did what she was able to. It’s important to question, and this production did it very well, and with great sensitivity.

The audience, seated in the gardens were treated to a performance that combined some wonderful music, and creative use of the space, with the actors entering through the audience at the start, and occasionally interacting with the audience…but in a very natural, believable, and inobtrusive style. The English weather behaved, and it was a true delight to sit outside, listening to the babbling mill stream, and the birds and watch the occasional butterfly, alongside this quality production!

The production ends with a slide of a quote from James Baldwin “Nothing can be changed until it’s faced”. It’s a very poignant, powerful quote, and summed up the evening perfectly.

This show was reviewed on the 29th June 2023.  Mansfield Park runs at The Watermill Theatre until the 8th July 2023.  Tickets available here: MANSFIELD PARK (watermill.org.uk)

Review written by Ruth Hawkins

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Photo credit: Nigel R Glasgow

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