What an absolute joy. I simply can't express my gratitude wholeheartedly enough for such a wonderful production of Austen's classic. At least that's what Miss Bates would say. But honestly, Tim Luscombe's playful and sharp-witted adaptation of Emma really is a joy.
For a start, there is the genius set design, which involves an elevated, circular ring filling the stage, higher at the back than the front and, inside, a dig-out with a few pieces of furniture. By simply moving up and down the different levels and in and out of the circle, the characters lead us in and out of houses, up and down gardens and even, with the use of a spotlight, into a personal letter or a character's psyche.
The characters transition effortlessly through time and space. There's no disruption and no camouflaged stagehands which allows us, the audience, to remain seamlessly in Austen's world.
And what a world it is, inhabited by incredibly well acted characters. Every member of the cast played their part with liveliness, wit, timing and a real sense of freshness. Not an easy task for such a well-worn tale.
In fact, despite the period costume and speech, I often found myself thinking of that most famous of Emma adaptations, Clueless, in that the story felt accessible and truly entertaining, rather than being weighed down by its own infamy and associated baggage.
This might in part be due to the fact that, unlike in the book, Luscombe rearranges the narrative to loop in the audience early on the deceptions that elude Emma. This is a sensible and, thankfully, effective decision for the stage where it would be difficult to have actors stand in front of you, inhabiting a character, and portray only what Emma sees.
And rather than simplifying the story, this move also heightens the pathos we feel for Emma. It's particularly touching to see the way Mr Knightley, played handsomely by Phillip Edgerley, subtly manoeuvres to help with Emma's father without alerting her to the burden she quite blindly carries.
In fact, by the time Mr Knightly and Emma stutteringly declare their feelings for each other, you've been so drawn in by these undercurrents, played out but not spoken, it's hard not to leave with just a little something in your eye.