Tim Luscombe is quoted as saying that the biggest challenge in adapting a Jane Austen novel is finding the right place to put the interval. To my mind, the biggest challenge is allowing Jane Austen’s words to shine through the intricacies of the plot. He quite rightly avoids a narrator and monologues, but the story still has to be told and the emotions still have to be portrayed. In the past I have seen novels adapted for stage which become a series of bewilderingly rapid dialogues and equally rapid scene-shifting and I was nervous that Mansfield Park would go the same way. Thankfully there is almost no scene-shifting; changes in clothing must tell the passing of time and usually they do this very successfully. It seems to me that the first few scenes are rushed but the play and the actors then settle into the story and their characters.The acting is very good: Ffion Jolly manages to give Fanny personality and her silences are telling, not dull. We do understand what she is thinking. Kristin Atherton is a wonderfully lively Mary Crawford who shows true depth of character; Karen Ascoe on the other hand, as Mrs Norris, is a caricature of all that is bigoted in society but this works very well as light relief. It is a pared down cast, with only eight actors: so many characters from the book have been left out of the play but, in truth, if they had all been included the play would have been far too long. There is no room for some of the darker side of the story, hinted at in the book (Sir Thomas’s sugar plantations in Antigua are worked by slaves for instance) nor do you realise how important Fanny has become to the Mansfield Park inhabitants (which makes the temporary separation hard for both sides). However, adapting a novel inevitably means cutting out a good deal: on the whole this is done successfully.
The play has a lot of gentle humour and the story is prettily told. Expect a flavour of Jane Austen but not whole-hearted immersion in her prose and you will have a very entertaining evening.