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Jane Austin's Emma @ the Melville Theatre

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by Douglas Sutherland-Bruce (subscribe)
Douglas has been a professional food writer since 1986. He is also an award-winning actor and director in Community Theatre and has been for many years. His blog may be found at:
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Jane Austen, arguably England's premier woman writer of the 19th century was ashamed of her calling. If a servant caught her writing she would cover the paper and pretend to be doing something else.

Her first novel was published by 'A Lady' and it wasn't until well after her death at 41 that she became popular and fashionable.

One of her timeless love stories comes to Melville Theatre this May.

Described as one of Jane Austen's most adored characters, Emma is a beautiful and clever young woman who prides herself on her matchmaking ability but while she's preoccupied with romance, she's clueless to her own feelings of love.

And when Emma takes on a young friend as her latest project, her well-intentioned efforts misfire, leading to a whirlwind of complications.

Emma (Tess Perich) and Harriet Smith (Kaitlin Shawcross)

Director Vanessa Jensen has adapted the script for stage herself, based on the original 1815 novel.

I am a Jane Austen fan, and have been for years," she said. "I directed Pride and Prejudice at Melville Theatre and wanted to direct Emma next but I struggled to find a version of Emma I liked.

They were all modernised and changed and the lyrical beauty of Austen's words were often lost with the propriety and manners hidden.

I asked myself what I was looking for and the answer was 'the novel on the stage', so I set out to dramatise it.

Changes had to be made to accommodate theatrical conventions and to keep the show to a reasonable length but the tone, style and many of the words are straight from the pages of the novel."

For those not familiar with the story, Jensen calls it "a Regency romantic comedy full of lively characters, humour and romance".

"Emma is a story of manners, misunderstandings, match-making and marriage," she said.

"Jane Austen said 'I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like' so bringing Emma to life in a way that makes her liked while retaining the social commentary Austen is famous for was always going to be difficult."

Jensen has a wealth of theatre experience behind her, after first appearing on stage as an eight-year-old and directing her first show at 14.

She wrote, directed, stage managed and acted in various shows at Curtin University's Hayman Theatre over a four-year period and has staged several successful productions at the Old Mill and Melville Theatres, including The Venetian Twins, Three Tall Women, Pride and Prejudice, Away, Amadeus and her own award-winning script Jamie's Chooks.

Away won Jensen the Constance Ord Award for directing at the 2010 Old Mill Theatre awards and she also received a best director nomination at the annual Finley Awards for Amadeus last year.

She believes her main challenge with Emma is finding the right balance.

"Emma needs to be meddling, blind to the actions and meanings of others, pampered and occasionally unthinking and hurtful, for the story to work," Jensen said.

"But she must also be charming, pretty, witty and full of life because the audience always needs to love the leading lady when it's a romantic comedy.

"There is also the problem of competing with pre-conceived ideas of Emma and Mr Knightley, courtesy of Gwyneth Paltrow and Jeremy Northam in the 1996 film version."

Emma plays from May 4th to the 19th. Book on 9330 4565 or email

Emma is also an officially registered fundraising supporter for the National Breast Cancer Foundation with Melville Theatre donating $2 from every ticket sold, as well as raffle proceeds and any donations collected.

Melville Theatre is on the corner of Stock Road and Canning Highway, Palmyra. More information is available at on the website.

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Why? Austen's timeless love story
When: 8:00pm, matinee at 2:00pm
Where: Melville Theatre, Cnr Stock Road and Canning Hwy, Palmyra
Cost: $18 and $14 concession.
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