There are some predictable smirks, but a show imagining the novelist's work with an explicit playwright is surprisingly sweet and witty.
What is this inescapable desire we have to mess around with Jane Austen? The poor woman has been through the mill of late, with the literary world seeing Elizabeth Bennet contending with the undead in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and the Dashwoods about to take on tentacled sea creatures in Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters. Meanwhile, onscreen, Elton John's Rocket Pictures is working on Pride and Predator.
So far be it for theatre to miss out. Fresh from a run on the Edinburgh fringe, Jane Austen's Guide to Pornography arrived at Battersea's Theatre 503 last week with an all-male cast and not a little innuendo. Steve Dawson's piece pitches a gay pornographic playwright, tired of only churning out one-liners and sex, up against Austen herself, who is near death, bored with her stories and "awaking screaming at the thought of another Mr Darcy". The pair look for inspiration from each other: Jane wants a bit of raunch in her new novel, Brett the playwright wants to inject true love into his writing.
There are some predictably nudge-nudge elements – ooh, let's make Jane Austen say "enormous cock", that'll be hilarious – but it actually works pretty well, particularly when Jane and Brett are squabbling over storyline ideas. It's silly, but it's also funny: "No one has ever fainted in my novels except for Emma, and that was the only one and not because she met this 'Dick' person," Jane tells Brett firmly. The burgeoning romance between the two actors/characters dreamt up by Jane and Brett is sweetly believable, ending with a clever twist on the "Marianne sprains her ankle" scene from Sense and Sensibility. Perhaps the mention of felching – "it sounds frightfully Mediterranean," says Jane – will get the Jane Austen Society up in arms, but the play is actually a very affectionate portrait of the author, so I hope not.
- Alison Flood, Guardian.co.uk
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