Lady Anna: All at Sea at the Park Theatre
Celebrating the bicentenary of Trollope’s birth, Lady Anna: All at Sea brings to life one of the author’s less acclaimed novels and presents it in its best light by extracting its most intriguing elements. The result is a charming performance that succeeds in pleasing Trollope’s dedicated readers, as well as generating interest in his work for those who are less familiar with him. The play merges the storyline of Lady Anna with imagined scenes of Trollope’s writing process that show him conversing with fellow passengers aboard an Australia-bound ship. He discusses the progress of his work and listens to feedback regarding the course of the narrative. This manner of presenting the story allows the focus to be on the author himself, making the play a tribute to his flair for storytelling.
The plot itself is centred around a disputed inheritance, but beyond the legal drama there is a strong emphasis on the protagonist’s dilemma regarding her choice of a husband. Torn between the affections of a tailor and the attentions of an earl, the heroine’s stance reflects Trollope’s own vacillation between a liberal outlook and an attachment to tradition.
Rewriting Lady Anna for the stage allowed playwright Craig Baxter to appreciate this overlooked novel and perhaps understand why the author declared it to be the best book he had ever written – a view that Trollope alone held. Director Colin Blumenau, too, speaks of a newfound regard for the Victorian author’s satirical analyses of society, and he ensures that the novelist’s mocking tone is delivered in full effect by the strong cast.
The open layout of the performance space and the minimalist set (nothing but stacks of books scattered around) allow more movement and, thus, a dynamic pace. The play’s structure is compact and the shifts between Anna’s story and Trollope’s writing experience are blended smoothly. This overlapping method proves to be effective in building up tension and it reflects Trollope’s own writing style, which oscillates between direct narration, self-awareness and communication with his readers. Apart from exploring the borders between the author’s reality and his characters’ world, the play is also a balanced study of the clash between social classes – a political note that is as relevant as ever. Lighthearted and amusing throughout, it is not only a worthy celebration of an important author, but also an interesting exploration of the dynamics of storytelling.
Photo: Simon Annand
Lady Anna: All At Sea is on at Park Theatre from 19th August until 19th September 2015, for further information or to book visit here.