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Austen The Musical - East Riding Theatre, Beverley
Elaine Annable, Music Correspondent
Austen The Musical by Rob Winlow is a celebration of Jane's life and follows her transition from a country parson's daughter to one of the most widely read writers in English literature.

The musical explores her love affairs, her relationship with her parents, and her struggle to become a published author in a male dominated society

I first came across this musical back in 2013 at the York New Musicals Festival when it was still very much a work in progress.

At the time I was highly critical of certain aspects of the production - principally the musical arrangements and accompaniments.

Rather than supporting and enhancing the vocal line, the backing tracks which accompanied the singing were a major distraction and an irritation, a real shame as the songs had such potential.

Added to which some of the dialogue and lyrics were rather anachronistic, with modern phrases and idioms not in keeping with the time period in which the musical was set.

However, these criticisms aside, it proved to be very popular with the theatre going public when it was taken to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2014 and was subsequently chosen for The Jane Austen Festival in Bath.

Since then the show has been given a completely new look with award winning West End director Matt Aston being brought in to extend the storytelling aspect.

Several rewrites and new songs later, Austen the Musical has evolved into a charming show which is a joy to watch due to some excellent performances from a local cast of four.

Annie Kirkman is beguiling and utterly convincing as Jane Austen. With a beautiful, clear singing voice which is perfectly suited to music of that period, she gives a most accomplished performance.

Joshua Meredith is a likeable engaging actor and plays multiple roles as Jane's three suitors along with several London publishers, all of which allow him to showcase his talent for accents and physical comedy.

There are also strong performances from both Kate Steel and Oliver Brookes who play a variety of roles. As Jane's parents they are clearly channelling the Bennets from Pride and Prejudice, with Oliver Brookes showing a deft touch as Jane's father.

For me, the acting was the most impressive aspect of a production which was stylishly directed and well-paced. It contained some genuinely moving scenes, charming moments of gentle comedy, wit and repartee, and clever physicality from all the actors in portraying their many and varied roles.

Rob Winlow's lovely melodic songs were well-performed by all members of the cast. Sensitively arranged by new Musical Director, Edward Winlow, Rob's son, the simple piano accompaniments enhance and support the vocal line and are perfectly suited to the intimate chamber nature of the piece and the period.

At ninety minutes Austen The Musical is much shorter than most in this genre, but it was a wise decision not to attempt to extend it, as there is clearly not nearly enough material to sustain a full length musical, and anyway, it's always a good idea to leave the audience wanting more.

This was a most enjoyable evening, and yet another impressive show from the East Riding Theatre, which is rapidly gaining a reputation for lively and innovative productions.

Now on my third visit to Beverley, I would strongly recommend that people check out this new and up and coming theatre.

Austen The Musical - East Riding Theatre, Beverley, 3rd July 2015, 8:45 AM