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Hexagon - Emma

8th to 13th October 2001.

This was the Newbury Weekly News review.

The spirit of an age

'EMMA', at the Hexagon, from Monday, October 8 to Saturday, October 13

Emma, performed at The Hexagon by the Good Company and directed by Sue Pomeroy is a brisk and enthusiastic, costumed comedy of manners based on the novel by Jane Austen. The author maintained that she had taken a heroine "whom no one" but herself "will much like" and at the outset, you feel yourself agreeing. Quite clearly, it is difficult to accept the character of Emma Woodhouse, a spoilt, morally flawed snobbish young woman prone to appalling verbal cruelty.

Yet despite this, Laura Howard plays her with attractiveness difficult to ignore, demonstrating that Emma voices the acute social observations that constitute Austen's trademark. The action of the play, as in the novel, is seen through Emma's eyes and revolves around her often-disastrous attempts at matchmaking.

This creates a comedy world of wit and humour inhabited by the sad and the absurd. As to the absurd, you only have to turn to Anthony Washington as the animated Mr Elton. Mr. Woodhouse, the heroine's father, played by veteran light comedy and classical actor Jonathon Cecil constitutes the sad. He ably gets across a man who has a complete lack of sensitivity or understanding of his daughter. However, beyond the gentlemanly, 'silly-arse' comic exterior lurks a serious man fearing change.

In contrast, the reserved "sometimes out of humour" Knightley (Dominic Taylor) conveys a character at odds with his emotions, yet still offering a voice of reason.

Although Dennis Saunders' set has a utilitarian basic drawing room staging and passage of time marked by lighting effects, it was always populated. Actors tended not to leave the stage but stayed as observers to the action even though they were not participants. On several occasions cast members added to the production's period feel by performing on pianoforte and oboe, and recorded music of Beethoven and Haydn defined the spirit of the age.

Emma is one of Jane Austen's great novels. Many would argue that it is her finest work and it must have posed many difficulties in adapting and abridging to the stage. However, Good Company have a well-deserved reputation for successful stage adaptations of literary classics and this touring production, adapted by Dennis Saunders and Sue Pomeroy, is no exception being both scholarly, entertaining and a highly successful adaptation of a difficult and 'wordy' novel.