1 September 2015

Lady Anna: All At Sea at the Park Theatre did Anthony Trollope proud

The Park Theatre at Finsbury Park has quickly established itself as one of my favourite theatres simply because it has so much going for it. The plays are obviously the most important thing with the performance spaces a close second but the front of house area matters too and so do the transport links. The Park Theatre excels with two stages seating 200 and 90 people respectively, two bar areas serving a good range of food and drinks, and it sits almost on top of Finsbury Park station with a bus station next to it.

Being one of my favourite theatres mean that I pay more attention to their listings which, in turn, means that I am more likely to go there. And so it was that I learned about Lady Anna: All At Sea and as it was an adaptation of Anthony Trollope's book Lady Anna I was quick to make a booking. I had been through a Trollope period and had read all of the Barchester stories and had a good idea of what to expect despite not having read Lady Anna itself.

I booked the theatre for a day that I would have been in London. That worked reasonably well though the Met Office got the forecast wrong and my 4km walk in light cloud meant that I got drenched in a very heavy shower. I had an umbrella and that protected my head but my suit and shoes took some serious damage. Luckily I cared for neither very much. Also the rain stopped after a while and continuing the walk was the best way to dry off.

I got to the theatre around 6:30pm which gave me plenty of time to eat and drink before the show. And to dry off some more. I started with a warming coffee and followed it with a spinach quiche and salad. I like their quiches and salads. Warmed and fuelled I got a Meantime Pale Ale to take in to the first half with me.

I had had some luck with the book as for some reason there were eight seats available in the middle of the front row when seats to the sides and behind them had been taken. I spent my £25 on seat A21. The stage was "U" shaped with a wide bottom and short sides and I was just right of centre.

The stage was raised with little legroom but plenty enough for me. The stage was bare apart from the books spread across it. It stayed that way and the books became seats and stepping stones, as required.

Lady Anna: All At Sea told two stories concurrently, the story of Lady Anna as written by Trollope and the story of Trollope writing the book while travelling to Australia on the steamship SS Great Britain, hence the All At Sea qualification.

The story of Lady Anna was a fairly simple one, as was usual with Trollope. An Earl had died and while it was clear who the title should go to the future of his fortune was less certain with two possible wives laying claim and whichever one won that would still leave the new Earl penniless. A marriage was proposed between the new Earl and the daughter of one of the claimants to reunite title and money but she loved a lowly man, a tailor, who would be significantly below her socially if her mother won her case.

From there Anna's story provided the backbone off which hung the characters and social observations that made it a Trollope story.

On the boat, Trollope set about his task in his usual way, writing nine pages each morning before breakfast. His wife the reviewed and corrected his writing. This style has been criticised for being more like an industrial process than an artistic endeavour but the proof is in the pudding and he wrote some very popular books.

Life on the boat also enabled us to understand the social observations that Trollope was making through the eyes of that time. For example, it was inconceivable to Trollope's fellow passengers that Anna, once a Lady, could possibly marry a tailor.

Trollope's story was told in the same style as Trollope told Anna's and the two stories meshed neatly. Helping them to mesh was the small cast that each played several roles. Princess pretty Antonia Kinlay understandably caught my eye the most as Anna in the story and Trollope's maid on the boat. It came as something of a shock to see her in the cafe afterwards to realise that I had been sitting next to her when having my coffee before the show. The other cast were excellent too as they brought the horde of characters to light.

The third story, which encompassed the other two, compared the social structures of England and Australia.

Lady Anna: All At Sea grabbed my attention from the start and held it effortlessly for two hours with stories of relentless charm and interest. It was a luscious experience that left me smiling broadly for a long time.

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