The damp atmosphere, mud underfoot and uncomfortable portable seating were of course outside the production's control, but the 20 mins delay in getting under way was not, and my willingness to be pleased as I sat down had soured a little by the time the actors drifted onto the set. I don't think the repetitive and dirge-like solo violin music helped, either. There was a hearteningly numerous audience, though I detected signs of inattention after the first half hour and even some desertions at the interval, possibly because some of the players had trouble in projecting their voices beyond the first three rows.
The theme of confusion in immature minds between life and literature is not irrelevant to our age in its prefiguring of our obsession with the triumphs and disasters of celebrity popular culture, but to speak to us directly I feel the producer and players have to convey a lot of inner energy and conviction, and in this respect I found this production lacking in bite.
The minimalist and reversible painted panels indicating location made little impact and could have been dispensed with. The male characters were insufficiently differentiated one from another - with the exception of the lively Sir John, they were oddly hesitant and subdued. Edward Ferrars was a peripheral figure throughout, and Mr Palmer, a notably acerbic figure, here was no more than petty and fretful, a man whose barouche had lately received a parking ticket. Willoughby, while a penniless scapegrace, should at least be charming; here he seemed gloomily preoccupied as if he'd come from an interview with his sub-prime mortgage lender. The handsome Colonel Brandon drew the eye but had little to do until his duel. There was no visual indication of the generational gap between the older and younger women - a pity when the all the actresses were necessarily of student age - and why did no lady wear a cap to accompany her period gown?
Was this adaptation from the novel worth tackling? Probably, yes, but the challenge of bridging the void of years and mores between our contemporary world and that of Miss Austen is a tricky one, and one that in the end proved a little too taxing this week.