Jane Austen Is Dead (Brave Theatre)

janeaustenVenue: New Theatre (Newtown NSW), Sep 16 – 23, 2013
Playwright: Mel Dodge
Director: Patrick Davies
Actor: Mel Dodge

Theatre review
Romantic love for the modern woman is a tricky thing. While Jane Austen’s books are still adored, the meaning of marriage has changed drastically over the last two centuries and we now negotiate relationships afresh without religious or traditional constraints. This opens up a liberated new world, but it also presents a kind of quagmire where some of us are left baffled and defeated.

Mel Dodge’s work expresses this experience perfectly. It is a thorough exploration into the world of a single woman in her 30s who is looking for love, but who in the process, also questions her own motivations and decisions. The script is an honest one. It gets to many ugly truths that audiences will identify with, but wraps it up in humour and wit so that the predicaments portrayed are never allowed to painfully wallow or to turn into misery.

Dodge’s performance of her own script is stellar. She has crafted a protagonist Sophie, who is endearing from the very start, and we develop a warm affiliation that keeps us engaged through every second of the show. The plot freely jumps across time and space, with Dodge playing a whole raft of characters, all believable, familiar and funny, making this one-woman show hugely entertaining and impressive.

Patrick Davies’ direction fleshes out all the cleverness and all that is amusing in the script. The transitions between characters, and the different levels of engagement with the audience are skilfully constructed so that our attention is kept tightly under control and no moment is wasted.

A single flaw would be the play’s abrupt ending. Sophie comes to a conclusion that is at once meaningful and interesting, but it all winds up too swiftly. Although perhaps, it could just be the audience enjoying her company too much and are unwilling to say goodbye.