“It’s a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”. This is the first line from Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice and arguably where the one-woman, Sydney Fringe Festival show, Jane Austen Is Dead begins. The story is by an Austen devotee and like its contemporaries, Bridget Jones’s Diary and Amanda Hooton’s Finding Mr Darcy; it takes the pearls of wisdom from Austen herself and uses it to negotiate the often brutal, modern dating world.
The story is written and performed by Mel Dodge and is inspired by true stories of people looking for love. The main character Dodge portrays is Sophie, a strong female lead who is 33 and works in a bar. She has observed the human mating ritual for some time and has much to say about this. She is also a romantic, an optimist and a literature fan. What ensues is a recounting of the men from her own life, which started at the tender age of five when she traded lunch with a classmate to recently catching the bouquet at a friend’s wedding and everything in between.
Along the way there are many Austen quotes and cameos from her lead characters. Dodge also plays a vast array of different roles and proves to be one excellent and versatile actress. The characters are also linked to Sophie and include: Mary, her young fellow barmaid who obsesses over texting back a recent date; a happily married and pregnant friend; her regular customer Theresa, a sultry vixen if there ever was one; and a bride-to-be who is actually marrying Sophie’s ex the following day.
Dodge keeps the energy high and the characters are well-portrayed, which makes them relatable. It is a little confusing to work out some of these things in the beginning but we do see a noticeable shift between some of them. So while it’s hard to distinguish between them as Dodge is developing their personalities for the viewers, this is thankfully righted by the end.
One of the questions posed is what do you do when your ideal man is Mr Darcy but the ones you meet are disasters like Mr Wickham and Mr Collins? It also asks how one traverses the minefields that are RSVP, Facebook, speed and video dating to find a white knight in shining armour? Dodge segues off at one point to showcase the heroes and villains in Austen’s classics and expertly links it to those all-too-familiar modern dating stereotypes like the men obsessed with war re-enactments, machinery, living on farms, etc.
The story is a light comedy that successfully juxtaposes old-fashioned manners plus Austen’s great expectations and social commentary with the modern world. It’s one relatable and familiar story that works well for the most part but could’ve been improved by the inclusion of a few more jokes. That said it does have the ability to connect with people and offer a few giggles while returning us to a more sobering portrait of life and love.
Jane Austen Is Dead plays out its story on a minimalist stage with just one woman actress but it also manages to ask some very big questions. It also offers an enjoyable and entertaining enough experience that means it ’s likely to appeal to a wider audience than just pure Austen fans. Ultimately, it’s an endearing satire and light-hearted dig at the current state and is filled with information and observations by one trully honest guide and reader.
Originally published on 18 September 2013 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/sydney/theatre-review-jane-austen-is-dead-new-theatre-sydney-16-09-13
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