I have always appreciated Jane Austen and what her writing represented. It just has never been for me, it has never been something I have sought out. I mention this to preface that when I say that this production was enjoyable and crafted with such care, I mean it as a high compliment. The first thing that stands out about Emma is the look crafted by director and set designer Jessica Thorpe. The staging is simple but effective, the colour palette of the stage feels tonally appropriate with the bright yellow walls and dark woods capturing the warmth of the characters and the relationships that are at the centre of the story. The champions of this setting are the stage crew, who the director has chosen to dress in era appropriate costumes. This choice makes them feel part of the scene, they are the servants for Regency high society. They do a fantastic job of setting the stage, however I do question if the transitions needed to always be in blue light, because at times the breaks in action stalled the energy of a scene.
The second thing that stands out about the look of this production are the costumes designed and coordinated by Leone Sharp. Each one is meticulous and matches the character. Each costume was beautifully constructed and were as good as any professional production I have seen. This is the theme of Ruby’s production of Emma, care and thoughtfulness. This is clear in the performances on stage. Each character felt like they had been fleshed out with clear intentional choices by the actors. Chelsea Widdicombe sets the tone as the titular character. Widdiecombe has all the stature and grace of a leading lady and has a warmth on stage that invites the audience into the story.
The stand out performances for me were Anthony Brown and Kimberlea Smith who played Mr Woodhouse and Harriet Smith respectively. Brown was the perfect balance of curmudgeonly and loving, playing a man that seems to care deeply for those in his life. Smith’s Harriet was so bright and engaging. You get the sense that this is a person who is trusting and kind, but who is insecure and afraid to do wrong by those she holds in high regard. Both Brown and Smith had some of my favourite moments in the show when they were simply existing on stage and reacting to the world their contemporaries have created.
While the whole cast should be commended I feel that at times the projection of voices is something that should be a focus moving forward. Regrettably some lines were not fully audible for those of us in the back row.
I wish the whole team at Ruby Productions a fantastic run of Emma!
3/5 Regency Era Bonnets.