Social distancing? No touching? Not a pandemic play, but Jane Austen's Emma, as CCADS take the show on the road
A story about people longing to be together, but unable to even touch because of society’s constraints?
Nope – it’s not a contemporary piece about the pandemic, it’s an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma, originally written way back in 1815.
As director John-Paul McCrohon says: ‘It's never not relevant, Emma, because it's got so much to say about the human condition but in a very entertaining and accessible way.
‘Not to mention the fact that we're talking about a period of time where it's all about these seething romantic tensions between people who aren't allowed to touch or stand close to each other.
‘What could be more relevant to our times?’
Multi award-winning company CCADS Theatre will return to local stages for the first time in 16 months with an open-air tour of Austen’s romantic comedy.
Miss Emma Woodhouse amuses herself by matchmaking and meddling in the romantic lives of those closest to her.
As she navigates her way through the challenges of growing up, friendship strife, mistaken identity and misguided matches, will she recognise the love that has been there all along and earn her very own ‘happily ever after’...?
The cast is packed with award-winning talent, including Charlotte Thomas in the title role, Tony Dart as her father Mr Woodhouse, with Kerry McCrohon and Lauren Kempton, playing Mrs Elton and Miss Jane Fairfax respectively, and Jonathan Fost as Mr Knightley.
Playing four open-air venues, Emma is set to be quite a spectacle, with lavish Regency costumes set against some truly beautiful natural backdrops.
The nine-strong cast are currently in rehearsal and as John-Paul says: ‘It's the weird fragility of our situation now – the conversations we've had with the cast that you'd never have done before: “You never quite know, but let's be extra-sensible about where we go in those two weeks”, because it only takes one person to get the fateful “ping” on the phone [of the test and trace app] and then it all kind of collapses.
‘Most of our rehearsals we've been doing outdoors anyway because it's an open-air piece, we want to get as much outdoor rehearsal as possible.
‘I've never checked the weather app on my phone more than I have in the last few days: “I've got all nine people scheduled for tonight's rehearsal, it cannot rain!”
‘There’s all these things you have to factor which wouldn't normally be a consideration.
‘It's just great to be creative again, and doing it, but sticking to all the guidelines and doing it the way we're supposed to.
‘I wanted to do the minimum amount possible via Zoom. We've all had to do so much on Zoom and Teams or whatever, and there's only so much you do in terms of rehearsal remotely.
‘As soon as the May 17 hit and we were allowed, we were back together – and it's been great to get back.’
The outdoor tour was born partly of practicality, but also a simple love of theatre.
‘I really love open air theatre,’ says John-Paul, ‘both as an audience member and as a performer. It's been a long time since CCADS has done anything outdoors.’
When John-Paul found this adaptation of Emma he knew he had the perfect piece.
‘I was thinking of a play that would work in these settings.
‘I'm a huge Jane Austen fan anyway – I grew up reading all of the books, watching all of the adaptations. I love Emma, it's one of my favourites, and I found this adaptation by Tim Luscombe.
‘Often, you love a book and you think it would be great do on stage, then you read an adaptation that doesn't maybe speak to you, or is what the book means to you.
‘He just captures the essence of the novel really well, it's funny, it's very fast-paced, one scene moves seamlessly into the next.
‘It just seemed perfect. It's joyous, you can bring anyone of any age to it and they'll get something out of it.
‘It's genuinely funny, it's heart-warming, it's romantic.
‘I'm hoping it's the kind of play that if people have been as starved of theatre as we have, it's a lovely one to ease back in with.
‘You're not having to worry about being indoors, if that’s something that still worries you, and just getting back to live local theatre.’
The show is playing in four locations over the next few weeks, each with its own challenges.
It was talking to the owners of The Half Moon, who are featuring Emma as part of their summer of live entertainment which got the ball rolling.
And it will be the first time CCADS have performed at Titchfield.
But the shows at The Farmer Inn in Catherington will mean a lot to the company.
‘The pub is run by Alice and Jim, the daughter and son-in-law of George Philpott, who sadly passed away about a year ago, but who was one of our stalwart members.
‘He was our stage manager, he built all of our scenery, so it's a great venue and it's got some sentimental value to us too.’
Then the tour culminates in Chawton – the village in which the novel was actually written.
‘We’re going to be performing at the very resonant setting of Chawton House, Jane Austen’s brother’s abode which is said to be the inspiration for the home of Mr Knightley.
‘That's going to be a lovely.’
July 12,13, 15 July, 7.30 pm at The Half Moon Pub, Sheet
July, 14, 7.30 pm at The Great Barn, Titchfield
July 18, 2.30 pm and 7.30 pm at The Farmer Inn, Catherington
August 13, 7pm at Chawton House, Alton
For tickets go to ccads-theatre.co.uk
A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron
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