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Austen's Women

Show Reviews

British Theatre Guide

Sat at her dressing table, gently and precisely preening herself, a young woman in Georgian era dress has a few things to say about the predicaments of men, marriage and the minds of women.

In an intuitively constructed meander, the audience is led through the thoughts and feelings of over a dozen of Austen's most famous and contrastingly different personalities.

Rebecca Vaughan once again thrusts herself onstage with nary a hint of ever breaking step or character. Between last year's grimly captivating Female Gothic and Austen's Women, she's fast proving herself to be one of the most exciting young performers on the British stage. Her eloquent delivery and confident stagecraft is blissfully combined with Guy Masterson's always reliable direction to create a fascinating production.

Both poignant and precise, the piece never gets too indulgent in a single character that they overstay their welcome, and pleasingly the expert skill with which the play has been penned means that even Austen novices will be enthralled. Truly extraordinary.

Three Weeks

"Men of sense do not want silly wives". Indeed they don't, and here Rebecca Vaughan marvellously creates some of Jane Austen's best loved women, both silly and virtuous (though perpetually occupied with the trouble of marriage). This one-woman show is a theatrical masterpiece, perfectly constructing thirteen individual characters. The wacky enthusiasm of Miss Bates, the fiery despair of Marianne Dashwood, the clueless folly of Mary Stanhope – they're all there. Using Austen's words, Vaughan's performance is utterly faultless and vastly entertaining. If you don't know the stories, then the allusions may be slightly lost on you, but it's not only for hardcore Austen fans. This is subtle and stripped back drama with spot on acting. Effortless, non-stop, exceptional.

One 4 Review

We are invited to be a fly on the wall of a Georgian Ladies dressing room where we encounter the narrator Rebecca Vaughan sitting at her vanity table preparing for a night out. Perhaps the voice of the writer herself she proceeds to take several characters from the Austen's books to enlighten the world in to the fact that women: love, hate, are jealous, can be manipulative, experience broken hearts and true passions as well as any men.

Utilising characters such as, Lizzy Bennett, Marianne Dashwood, Mrs Norris, Emma Woodhouse and many more finally returning to Lizzy Bennett for the final comments, we see the writers portrayal of women is as relevant today as it was almost 200 years ago. Cleverly written and superbly performed by Rebecca Vaughan, who slips from character to character with seeming ease - each lady as different from the next as they would be in real-life. Not only has Rebecca to remember all her lines, the direction notes but she must prepare herself and dress herself as if for a night out at a Georgian soirée. The hand made dress created specifically for the show is a perfect copy of those from the period designed to show us just what such ladies had to go through each day.

I always comment on Guy Masterson's mastery of selecting the perfect person for the job and he has done it again. Austen's Women is a perfect offering for those who enjoy the theatre or just reading the literature.

Adelaide Theatre Guide

A huge fan of the Bronte sisters, on the strength of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights alone, this reviewer has never been captured the same way by the novels of Jane Austen. Notwithstanding superb dramatisations on both film and now television, they have failed to make a lasting impression.

But the performance of one woman, Rebecca Vaughan, who has devised a framework in which she portrays no less than fourteen female characters from nine of the English novelist's works, in Austen's Women now playing at Higher Ground theatre, is nothing short of breathtaking.

This is acting at its highest level - with no-one else on stage to share the load, the responsibility. Before our very eyes, she morphs seamlessly into each character, perhaps with some introductory narration in the style of Austen as she affects a slight change of costume, significantly varied voice and demeanour for each character, a new turn of the head, some change in hair brooches - and throughout, a face sparkling with the joy of it all. And there is never any danger that the glimpses Vaughan gives us of Austen's women will become tediously repetitive.

Sharing the responsibility off stage, however, is director Guy Masterson, himself a superb actor and entrepreneur of a bewildering array of shows, which he brings here every year for the Fringe from the UK. His sensitive expert direction helps Ms Vaughan to shine as she does.

The number of performances of Austen's Women is generous, so you are urged not to leave a visit off your theatre-going list. You won't see too many one-woman shows as good as this.

Glam Adelaide

If you love the works of that epitome of romantic novelists, Jane Austen, then you will most certainly not want to miss this production. If, on the other hand, you thought that Mrs. Norris was merely a caretaker's cat in a castle where magic is taught, then you are in for a terrific surprise when you discover who she really was. Either way, you will love this work as Rebecca Vaughan, under the acute direction of Guy Masterson, superbly brings to life a diverse cross section of Austen's fascinating characters in rapid succession.

Fourteen of the women are represented, with every word taken from Austen's novels, a narrator linking scenes with lines taken from a range of her writings. With only a minimal change of costuming Vaughan, who also wrote the script, slips easily and seamlessly between each of the characters in a glorious parade of quirky personalities.

There is great humour in Austen's writing and Vaughan teases out all of the subtleties in the words spoken by each of these often flawed characters. It is interesting that, even though the men are not actually represented, their presences are often felt, sometimes very strongly, as the women constitute themselves through the men with they are, or wish to be involved.

Vaughan's performance is a tour de force and it is clear to see how much she loves each of her characters in her committed performances and understanding of their personalities and foibles. Austen would be thrilled to see how alive and exciting her characters are so many years later, still fresh and relevant in the hands of this marvellous performer.

Producer/director/actor, Guy Masterson, has established a reputation for bringing the very highest quality theatre to Adelaide Fringes over the years and this production, one of eight that he had brought us this year, is certainly worthy of that title. This is 'must see' theatre this Fringe.

Adelaide City Messenger

Clever and beautifully performed: Adapted and performed by UK actress Rebecca Vaughan, this is one clever and beautifully performed hour-or-so of theatre. Under the direction of Guy Masterson, Vaughan portrays 14 characters from Austen's books, via monologues written using only the words of Austen herself.

Some of the characters are better known than others but you don't need to be an Austen fan to understand and appreciate them. Vaughan gives each woman an individual voice, cleverly bringing out the humour and irony of Austen's words without delving into parody or caricature.

Also of interest are the Katie Flanaghan's costumes; During the course of her show, Vaughan dresses as a privileged lady from the 18th century, in everything from petticoats to socks to hair adjournment and gloves. It's interesting to see how the elaborate outfits we so often see in Austen movies are constructed.

Adelaide Advertiser

A Masterful One-Woman Show:
Austen's Women is a most agreeable tribute to the enduring and much-loved author Jane Austen. Rebecca Vaughan has adapted the words of and performed the characters from the works of the 19th century romantic novelist in a manner to be most universally admired. For those who have been living in solitary confinement all of their lives, Jane Austen was an English novelist whose romantic fiction novels are amongst the most widely read in English literature. Her works and her life have spawned numerous modern-day fan clubs, films and television adaptations.

Literary critics continue to debate her works to this day. In a masterful one-woman show Vaughan depicts 14 female characters from the much-loved works. She fluidly moves from one character to another appropriately starting and ending with arguably the most popular - Elizabeth Bennett from "Pride and Prejudice'. Director Guy Masterson has helped Vaughan bring to life a kaleidoscope of colourful characters, calling forth precious memories for fans and whetting the appetite for others. It is not just the characters that light up the stage, but also the dry, humorous and sarcastic words of Austen that come to life. Who can forget the infamous opening line of 'Pride and Prejudice'? - "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.' It is on this premise that Masterson and Vaughan base their show's theme - marriage and the importance of it in Austen's society and consequently her literary works.

Each character is subtly, or not so subtly, manoeuvring their lives around the choosing of or the consequences of having chosen a husband, or is facing a life without a husband. Austen's novels are alive with sparkling characters both men and women. This show is about the women, the degrees to which the choice of a marriage partner affects their lives and how they maintain their self-respect (or not) in doing so.

Vaughan superbly switches from Regency character to character - one moment the wretched, love-lorn Marianne Dashwood from 'Sense and Sensibility', next the hard-hearted Mrs Norris of 'Mansfield Park' and then the ditzy spinster Miss Bates from 'Emma'. This is to name just a few of the 14 wonderful characters.

This is a one-woman show for Austen fans to relish. It is a treatise on women and marriage in the 19th century in exactly the manner of which Ms Austen would have approved. It is also an excellent first impression for those who have not yet had the delight of being introduced to the delightfully wicked and witty world of Jane Austen.

Edinburgh Guide

Having already brought to the fore Shakespeare's Women with Susannah York and Berkoff's Women with Linda Marlowe, Guy Masterson directs Rebecca Vaughan through an exploration of Jane Austen, whose realism, biting social commentary and masterful irony has ensured she is one of the most widely read and beloved writers, with many film and TV adaptations of her famous works.

Austen's Women takes a rewarding exploration of her varied female characters, leaving aside the focus of the men, which is refreshing as everyone's sick of Colin Firth's Mr. Darcy overshadowing Austen's caustically witty writing. Jane Austen aficionado Vaughan has pieced together various writings from Austen's catalog, focusing on the all-important narrator who is allowed the luxury of observing and commenting without biased, interlaced between reflections from a mixture of thirteen of Austen's most memorably astute and foolish characters.

As we arrive, the sound system is playing 60s and 70s pop including 'Sugar Baby Love' by The Rubettes, which sets up beautifully the playful approach of Vaughan's delivery and Masterson's direction. We are taken through moments of elevated humour to touching scenes of pathos and isolation, Vaughan shifting from each character with ease only aided by a dimming of lights between character and narrator.

Vaughan effectively explores the plight of women as they have to constrain their mores in Austen's era and delightfully modernises the easily identifiable woes that women still face today, from love to social etiquette, or lack thereof!

The audience delighted in Vaughan's performance which was unfaultable, drawing us into the scenes by addressing us directly and assuring we were included in the subtle wit, boisterous idiocy and heartache of every moment. Vaughan's turn as each character is superb as she handles the matriarchal madams like Mrs. Norris, the young and naive like Catherine Morland and the strong-willed, non conformists like Elizabeth Bennet.

Each character is fully realised, the inane Miss Bates being a particular highlight along with a hilarious recital of nasal-twined Mary Stanhope which is counter-acted with a moving portrayal of a distraught Marianne Dashwood. This is a thoroughly enjoyable exploration of women, who it is clear to see, have not changed their mentality much in the last 200 years when it comes to men. Beginning and ending with Elizabeth Bennet as her pride and prejudice wane in favour of Darcy, this highlights the productions full circle exploring the civility, deference and politics of Austen's time, and is thoroughly recommended to any current or wannabe Jane Austen fans.

Fringe Review

Rebecca Vaughan, in period costume, steps into the skin of fourteen of Jane Austen's female characters, bringing them to entertaining life, with sharp observation, clever imagination and well chosen moments of humour and philosophical intensity, much to the delight of an audience that rewards the startling feat of performance, portrayal, writing and direction with loud applause at the end.

The staging is simple; a dresser, a screen, and Vaughan using skilled vocal work, eye theatre, movement and gesture to bring to this audience, sans fourth wall, fourteen women - Lizzy Bennet, Emma Woodhouse, Mrs Norris, Mary Musgrove to name just a few. "Emma" seems to be a particular favourite of Vaughan and is the most represented. The simplicity of staging and direction allows the characters to come forward and we are soon in their midst, in the room with them, enjoying their opinions and orientations towards the lives they live. Vaughan speaks directly to us, the words are enough and it is a strength of this production that it hasn't been over-choreographed. The directness of it is outstanding.

There's much to savour and enjoy. The tone is light, the narrator is witty and enjoys describing and introducing her characters. They become examples of women in a narrow part of society that Austen chose to write about, often self-centred, lost, often seeking, occasionally bemused at life's occurrences - always enjoyable to watch. There's a warmth to this selection which never becomes over-sentimental. A young Emma Woodhouse, twenty-one, who is rich and stricken with "the power of having rather too much her own way", is a particular personal favourite. Vaughan seems to inhabit the skin of each with consummate ease and a charisma that holds the attention throughout.

A real strength of this piece is that Vaughan, and Masterson as director, have stayed the right side of caricature; each character has been carefully created, delineated from the others, and each is a piece in itself. The narrative does not interfere but serves the flow of the production. We're guided, we're addressed, we're sometimes educated! But we're always entertained.

Vaughan is a hugely competent actor, and the whole hour rushes by. This is a strongly recommended show and I am not sure there's anything else quite like it at this year's Edinburgh Fringe.

Broadway Baby

Jane Austen's stories speak to every generation, everyone can identify with at least one of her enthralling characters. Adeptly binding together the vibrancy and variation of thirteen of Austen's heroines may seem overwhelming to some but Rebecca Vaughan triumphantly rises to the challenge. With extracts taken verbatim from Austen's literary canon - renowned for their social commentary, especially on women's position in society - this piece gives a taste of the humorous and dynamic characters in her work.

Thoroughly satisfying for all Austen fans, don't be dissuaded if you have no experience of Austen as the extracts are expertly tailored in a fashion that makes them universally engaging. Characters range in age, status and locality all of which Vaughan beautifully encapsulates in her performance as she suavely weaves from one character to another. This one-woman production features some of Austen's best-known heroines such as Emma Woodhouse (Emma) and Marianne Dashwood (Sense and Sensibility) and the lesser known Diana Parker (Sanditon). Though all characters appear to be perpetually concerned with marriage, their responses on the matter vary from hysterical to conniving. As the narrator, Vaughan gives a brief prelude to each character, opening and concluding with arguably Austen's most prominent heroine, Elizabeth Bennett (Pride and Prejudice). The opening lines of this spectacular novel are essentially the premise of this performance, 'It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife'. With superb fluidity, Vaughan switches from Elizabeth's disdain for Mr Darcy to the fluttering naivety of Mary Stanhope's (Juvenilia) as she contemplates a marriage proposal.

Guy Masterson's direction serves the narrative well, knitting together the narrator's dialogue in between the extracts without distracting from the flow of the piece. Vaughan's adoration for Austen's work is palpable as she charismatically holds the attention throughout the performance, delving into the plight of 18th century women, through the witty world of Jane Austen's heroines.

Edinburgh Evening News

Austen's Women could give a few tips to some comedy shows, not just in timing and subject material, but use of pathos and verisimilitude. Enjoy.

Scotsgay

Jane Austen published six novels and left two unfinished novels and some juvenilia, through all of which move a cast of unforgettably real women who feel every conceivable emotion, which we can still recognise today. It must have been hard for Rebecca Vaughan to select the characters she brings so brilliantly to life – who is to be left out?

Of course we must meet Elizabeth Bennett we also encounter a splendid mixture of heroines, irritating or insufferable women – Miss Bates, Mrs Norris, Mrs Elton, Mrs Charles Musgrove – and less well-known characters – Mary Stanhope (The Three Sisters), Diana Parker (Sanditon) and Miss Elizabeth Watson (The Watsons), who between them run the full gamut of emotions we find so perfectly described in the novels. Scenes were linked by a commentary using Austen's own words: to my particular delight, the opening address was Anne Eliot's defence of the constancy of women, who love longest when all hope is gone. Part of the joy of this show for the Austen addict is identifying the origin of each part of this delightful potpourri, but for those who know no Austen, her wit and deep knowledge of humanity would be entertainment enough – and maybe even induce them to read the novels for themselves.

Rebecca Vaughan's performance is outstanding. With virtually no props and very simple alterations to her costume, she brings each character memorably to life. Her rapport with the audience was excellent, and the capacity audience loved every minute.

Yet again Miss Austen triumphs this Fringe – hurry and get a ticket before it's too late!

Plays To See

Austen's Women is a tightly focused and fast paced celebration of the work of Jane Austen. Though it says nothing new - Vaughan prides herself on using only words to be found in the pages of the well loved classics - the play brings the novels' heroines to life so convincingly that it feels more like a fifteen-woman show than a solo performance.

Vaughan is fantastic and her love of Austen shines through her witty and touching performance. She introduces the audience to the characters of some lesser known writing ('The Watsons', 'The Three Sisters' and 'Sanditon') as well as animating the favourites such as Lizzy Bennet of 'Pride & Prejudice', Emma Woodhouse of 'Emma' and 'Marianne Dashwood' from 'Sense & Sensibility'. Vaughan entertainingly lifts the women from the page in her homage that is all funny voices and faces with only a little help from lighting needed to denote when she flits back to the role of omniscient narrator. The problems and passions of Austen's world become real and surprisingly current.

Austen's Women is a fitting tribute to an author with such insight whose words remain relevant today. A sound knowledge of the texts is recommended but by no means essential: I'm sure that this production will inspire a few audience members to return to their favourite Regency reads and will probably kindle a love in some new fans too. Austen would certainly deem Vaughan a truly accomplished young lady.

Hairline

'Gentlemen…' Jane Austen, aka Rebecca Vaughan, starts with to an audience where men are a clear minority… 'We certainly do not forget you as soon as you forget us. It is, perhaps, our fate rather than our merit. We cannot help ourselves. We live at home, quiet, confined, and our feelings prey upon us'.

It is not easy to perform a play based on a Jane Austen novel as a big part of the audience will most likely be fans of the books and have their own visions. Austen readers know the books by heart from the repeated readings and will frown at any variation of the perfect words. Rebecca Vaughan though, manages to pass the Austen-fan test with flying colours.

If you do not look at the program beforehand, the show provides a very engaging exercise to recognize the different books and women as they come alive on stage. Some of them are instantly recognizable even by the casual Austen readers, while others come straight from the unfinished novels.

While she changes from her night clothes to her evening gown, through different layers, she effortlessly goes through the personae of fourteen Austen women. A dressing table and screen accompany Rebecca on the stage and provide the tiny complements to her delivery.

Although the words come from different works, they are perfectly knitted together in the show. This arrangement causes some of the women to have somewhat stronger personalities, but one could argue it is just the effect of a modern interpretation.

Miss Bates invokes a special extra laughter and clap from the audience while you are completely convinced of seeing Mrs Norris and Harriet Smith on stage. Elizabeth Bennet should be less loud and Mrs Elton would sit in a more lady-like manner, but, from Anne Elliot's arguments for the greater constancy of women to Jane Austen's closing words from Emma, it is a an Austen treat. Well done Rebecca.

The Stage

What could we have in common with Jane Austen's characters, you might ask, when those girls married at 17 and guys were considered “old men” at “two and thirty” years old? Give this show a go and not only will you get plenty of answers to the question, but might even run home to blow the dust off one of the novels again. Rebecca Vaughan's loving homage to Austen's words and characters includes 14 short sketches of some of Austen's famous ladies, such as Lizzy Bennet, Marianne Dashwood and Emma Woodhouse, but also some lesser known ones, such as Diana Parker from Sanditon and Miss Elizabeth Watson from The Watsons.

Petulant, prudent, silly or sophisticated, these wives, daughters, young lovers and sisters will have all of our own strengths and weaknesses, and could still teach us a thing or two about how to get on in life. Vaughan's one-woman show has hints of Sex and the City as well as Catherine Tate in it – showing us the way in which Austen may well have laid the foundations of observational comedy too. Under Guy Masterson's direction, the piece is tightly corseted but frilly, flowing and flamboyant in all the right places.

Berrow's Journal / Worcester News

INTENSELY personal and engagingly direct, Rebecca Vaughan returns to Worcester with all the tireless vigour that makes her one-woman performances such an inspiring experience.

She is arguably the most talented actor of her generation. To watch her in full flow as she immerses herself in a character is not so much a memorable event, more a milestone in one's life.

Jane Austen was a witty commentator and observer of the social and literary mores of the early 19th century landed gentry, a closed and dynastical society that was eternally preoccupied with the need to make the right marriage choice.

To many of us of the television generation, this is mainly personified by the verbal swordplay and Cupid's arrow volleys exchanged between Lizzy Bennet and Mr Darcy.

However, there is much more to Austen's writing than this, as Dyad Production's Ms Vaughan so deftly demonstrates.

So while the delectable Mr D dangles helplessly, caught on the well-baited Bennet hook, we should not overlook the skilled wordplay characterised by the shrill hootings of Mrs Norris and Augusta Elton, who demonstrate that the highways and byways of the heart's journey are indeed littered with perilous twists and turns.

Throughout this 70-minute odyssey of upper class pre-Victorian life, Ms Vaughan never falters or deviates from the path of true love.

It's refreshing but at the same time rather lamentable that in this age of social networking, tweets and texting that there was once an age when the English language was treasured as a beautiful rose, well watered and nurtured by writers such as Jane Austen.

Gloriously, Rebecca Vaughan more than does this great writer justice and we eagerly look forward to her next visit to Worcester's Swan Theatre.

British Society For Eighteenth Century Studies

There is quite a lot of Jane Austen at the Fringe this year, and if Austen's Women is representative, then we're in for a real treat. The show is a compilation of monologues by thirteen of Austen's heroines. Beginning with Lizzy Bennet, we move on to hear the words of Austen's famous and lesser known female characters, including Mrs Norris, Miss Bates and Emma Woodhouse. The monologues are interspersed with commentary highlighting aspects of the female character according to Austen, from folly, to shrewdness, to generosity, vanity and prudence. The show opens with Austen's comments about the inconstancy of women, a theme and literary tradition inherited because, as we are immediately told, men had the advantage in telling the story.

Austen's Women is written using only Austen's words, but the characters are stripped of their context. Dialogue becomes monologue, and words once said within company become private moments of reflection. Most importantly, these women are stripped of their men. One actress, Rebecca Vaughan, delivers the entire performance. She appears bare-footed, dressed in a modest period undergarment, and moves from one character to the next with a subtle change of clothing. The simplicity of the stage, set with only a desk, reinforces the notion of peeling away the layers, and creates a feeling of intimacy. Vaughan's performance is seamless, and the play shows off her skilful ability to convey character. The ease with which she flits from person to person, embodying thirteen women in one hour, is impressive. She truly captures the wit and humour of Austen's writing and the eccentricities of her characters. Her facial expressions, voice and body language are captivating and at times hilarious, making this a highly entertaining and enjoyable show.

By removing these characters from their context, Dyad Productions seeks to present a ‘distillation of nineteenth century feminism', highlighting its contemporary relevance. The production weaves together moments of comedy with more serious revelations about the social realities and pressures faced by women. You will find yourself laughing at Mrs Norris's warnings about stepping out of rank and Mary Stanhope's naïve considerations of a marriage offer, while feeling the sadness of love, lust and rejection, as Marianne Dashwood sits on the floor, sobbing.

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