Austen the Musical opens and closes on a song that one has to assume is titled ‘Romantic heart’ and it is this that frames a romantic take on the life of Jane Austen. There’s nothing especially wrong with that. Austen did have a high ideal of romantic love, writing to her niece once “Anything is to be preferred or endured rather than marrying without Affection”.
But Austen was also one of the most exciting, acerbic and biting social commentators of her or anyone’s day. It is this vital side of her work that gets side-lined as we troop through her life in a series of vignettes centred on her romantic life. Too often Jane Austen is written off as old-style Mills and Boon (though only one assumes but the utterly illiterate). This play doesn’t do a great deal to address that.
The musical elements were nice but no more than that. There wasn’t really a standout number that I found myself humming on the way home. The cast had a range of musical abilities with the best voice belonging to Jenni-Lea-Jones who put in an in turns comical, dramatic and occasionally over the top performance as Mrs Austen and Mrs Le Froy.
Edith Kirkwood as Jane was engaging, but too often her attempts to add a dash of Austen’s caustic nature were portrayed through a series of scowls rather than being well supported by the text which needs some tightening and sense checking.
The play was not without its amusing moments. There was a great farce number that – had it had a more compelling chorus – could well have been that breakout the show needs. It was well staged with the cast coming into the audience and dancing around each other merrily.
The problem is, this was a play as light and frothy as Lydia Bennet, while what I want is a Lizzie.
Austen the Musical will continue on a tour across the UK http://austenthemusical.com/uktour-dates/4593832084