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Austen’s Women

By Susan Bennett

actress dressed in a period costume yellow dress

Rebecca Vaughan - co-writer & performer of Austen's Women

It was a filthy night: drain blocked floods, heavy winds, torrential rain and bony umbrellas stripped inside out. But a viable audience still made it to Crosby Civic Hall in Merseyside to see ‘Austen’s Women’ performed by Rebecca Vaughan, directed by Guy Masterson and written by them both.

We were a wet and soggy audience, crackling like crisp packets in our waterproofs, dripping puddles between our overlapping chairs and, as the hall got warmer, gradually steaming in the gloom.

On stage, Vaughan ignored our growing mustiness and performed a series of monologues reminiscent of the Alan Bennett series: ‘Talking Heads’.

She worked her way through a list of Austen women at a remarkable pace from the sedate Lizzy Bennet (Pride and Prejudice) and stolid Miss Bates (Emma) to less well known figures such as Diana Parker (Sanditon) and back again to Lizzy Bennet to complete the set. All done with no interval in one hour fifteen minutes – which must have been some sort of record.

It was a sparse set with little of interest: dark brown curtained backdrop and a single rug on the floor. Vaughan sat at a dressing table complete with a little drawer containing a billet-doux, a fan and keepsakes from an admirer lovingly tied with a silk bow.

Straining heavily against her corset which was dangerously exposed in some scenes and quickly camouflaged in others, she strode the stage with confidence and only occasional sips of water.

With several dips behind the screen to discard various garments and don a shawl, stockings and eventually an evening dress, Vaughan managed the transition between characters at times, admirably. However, clothes are not enough and from where I was sitting there were too many lost opportunities to complement what I am told was sharp and witty dialogue with convincing characterisation.

Simply hunching over does not make an old woman. Furious prattling did not make me believe in Mrs Norris (Mansfield Park) and I failed to spot Harriet Smith (Emma) completely. But maybe that was because for the entire one hour fifteen minutes I was bored – for the loop system did not work and I could not distinguish more than an odd word or two of the delivery……. Shame.

Go to the Theatre Tours International website to find out more about this touring production