Austen's Women: Lady Susan

Show Reviews

Always Time For Theatre

Jane Austen's women are some of the most entertaining characters to be found within the pages of classic novels, and the wit and intelligence of her writing shines brightly in Dyad Productions' Lady Susan. Drawing on key missives from Austen's epistolary novel and playing every role in later interactions, Rebecca Vaughan triumphs in this one woman show.

There's a real sense of mischief from the start as the recently widowed Lady Susan begins her tale of scheming, coquetry and husband-hunting, taking great pleasure in laying bare her plans and sparing no self-congratulation along the way. Vaughan moves between characters with impressive precision and distinctiveness under direction of Andrew Margerison, and the sense of sharpness is helped along by small but mighty devices - namely the clapping of hands to cue Lady Susan's take-over of the narrative, which becomes increasingly comic as she seems to hijack the piece at the height of her frustrations.

But much of the performance takes shape as a battle of wills between the influential Lady Susan and sister-in-law Catherine. As the scheming, resourceful Lady Susan, Vaughan speaks in confident velvet tones and with force, right from the diaphragm. This is a woman full of practised artifice and unshakeable clarity of ambitions - she inspires humour with her audacity and barbed judgements of others, landing deliciously biting lines with a permanent knowing smirk.

Catherine is a stark transformation as Vaughan crosses the stage from chaise to chair: high-pitched irritation is her baseline and she pairs this with a fantastically mobile expressiveness, grimacing and tutting to her heart's content. Some of the most comic moments belong to the speechless Catherine, who finds as much expressiveness in face as in shrillness and tight, incredulous laughs that she never fully releases from her throat.

Daughter Frederica takes a careful mid pitch between the two, and a softer tone, lingering on words with fluttering eyes as she heads for marriage and begins to pick up her mother's alluring mantle. The Grand matriarch Mrs De Courcy is conjured with shawl, crumbling posture and an aged voice from the depths of a cave somewhere, booming her disapproval with great comic impact - it's a wonder that Vaughan can use her voice so powerfully in such costuming, but she's mastered 60 minutes of constant speech in a corset like nobody's business.

Quite apart from the rich comedy of these characters, Lady Susan exposes the ridiculousness of the lot of the Georgian woman, crafting wonderful comic caricatures but never missing an opportunity to highlight the trials and tribulations of women so beholden to men for survival - and so often sunk or left to flounder by other women. In bringing such women to the stage, Rebecca Vaughan's performance is a stellar example of carefully crafted multi-rolling, carrying us along with an assured and charismatic performance in an ambitious and brilliantly executed solo show. See this one if you can.

Stagey Lady

How could one actor depict several different characters and hold our attention for well over an hour? Rebecca Vaughan as Lady Susan had her audience captivated and wanting more.

Austen's Women: Lady Susan is the latest offering from Dyad Productions, created in collaboration with The Old Town Hall, Hemel Hempstead. Based on Jane Austen's first full-length work from 1794, written in the form of letters between the main characters, it is performed by Rebecca Vaughan and directed by Andrew Margerison.

Lady Susan, a beautiful, charming but scheming young widow has arrived at Churchill, the country house of her obliging brother-in-law and his suspicious wife. Fresh from causing upset with her flirtatious dalliances at Langford she now embarks on winning over sister-in-law Catherine's brother, Reginald. At the same time she is determined to marry her daughter Frederica to a man that the young lady heartily dislikes. The story unfolds through the correspondence between Lady Susan and Alicia, her friend and accomplice in romantic intrigues, and between sister-in-law Catherine and her mother, Lady de Courcy.

The stunningly simple set - a white curtain backdrop with a black velvet chaise-longue and chair on a black and white “tiled” carpet - was a perfect foil for the scheming machinations of the recently widowed Lady Susan. Black and White - was anything straightforward with this complex character? Was she manoeuvring her family and lovers like pieces on a chess board?

A change in the lighting and music accompanied the switch between the characters played so convincingly by Rebecca Vaughan. A clap of the hands and bright lighting heralds Lady Susan as she describes her progress in her conquests to her friend Alicia. Subdued sound and lighting when portraying sister-in-law Catherine, accompanied by petulant facial expressions and barely suppressed anger as she updates her mother on her guest's scheming. A shawl, walking stick and a deep, penetrating voice for Lady de Courcy as she worries about the family inheritance should Lady Susan succeed in ensnaring Reginald. There are even cameo portrayals of Frederica and Reginald. Alicia is heard off-stage, eventually forsaking her friend to preserve her own comfortable life - as she declares “Facts are such horrid things.”

Sadly, this wonderful production was only at The Old Laundry for one night. It is now touring over 40 venues throughout England, Scotland and Wales until September.

Richmondshire Today

Expectations were high for this production at The Georgian Theatre Royal. Rebecca Vaughan is no stranger to its historic stage - I, Elizabeth, Female Gothic and A Room of One's Own - to name but a few of her past solo shows - and she has a strong Richmond following.

Rebecca started touring as Dyad Productions back in 2009 with Austen's Women and she returns to the revered author for this latest production, introducing audiences to a somewhat lesser-known Austen heroine - Lady Susan Vernon.

Lady Susan is an epistolary novel - a very popular genre in the 18th Century - written in 1794 but not published until 1871 after Austen's death. It comprises letters between the fictional characters of the narrative and lends itself perfectly to a solo show, allowing for a whole range of character reactions to unfolding events.

Helped by quick-fire lighting changes and a clapping of the hands, Rebecca Vaughan switches expertly between the scheming tones of Devil-may-care Lady Susan to the simpering barbs of her long-suffering sister-in-law Catherine. Other protagonists include her rebellious and 'neglected' daughter Frederica, family matriarch Mrs De Courcy and the insouciant best friend, Alicia.

As always with Austen, the famed wit and pertinent choice of language make the lines fresh and razor sharp. Vaughan delivers them with a dazzling skill that ensures the plot moves at such a fast a pace that the audience is left in awe at a performer who can hold the stage so utterly and completely. This was essentially a 75-minute monologue with hardly a pause for breath.

Subscribe to Our Mailing List

Please enter your town so you never miss a show close to you.

Our Latest Tweets