It's the quiet ones you have to watch, and there are few quieter than Fanny Price, the bookish daughter of a poor family who's packed off to live with her rich and largely ghastly relatives, the Bertrams, in Jane Austen's third and most contentious novel. Adapted here by Tim Luscombe for Colin Blumenau's production, revived for its current tour by the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds, it becomes a trenchant if at times unremarkable statement on class, privilege and the self-determination of a young woman who refuses to fall for the dubious charms of a posh fop on the make.
Fanny is thrown into a world where courtships are built on how much someone is worth rather than love, so when the gold-digging Crawfords, Henry and Mary, come calling, all bets are off on who they'll end up with. Fanny, meanwhile, falls for Edmund, the would-be cleric with a kind heart and integrity to match her own. It is with Pete Ashmore's Edmund that Fanny opens up to reveal herself as a vivaciously modern young woman. Only the notion of being involved in a play that appears to promote adultery as life imitates art causes her to withdraw into her existential shell once more.
As with a Mike Leigh film, the rich people are played archly, and almost as pantomime villains who act like they hang out with George Osborne. Geoff Arnold, Laura Doddington and Leonie Spilsbury have great fun with this as assorted Crawfords and Bertrams, while Ffion Jolly plays Fanny with an understated steeliness in a romance that remains a telling pointer to exactly how much money still talks.
The Herald, November 7th 2013