This year sees the 150th anniversary of the birth of Stoke-on-Trent’s very own Arnold Bennett. This new adaptation by Deborah McAndrew is of one Bennet’s most cherished works and is set in our very own beloved Potteries.
Anna of the Five Towns follows the life of Anna Tellwright, whose 21st birthday brings with it newfound fortune, responsibilities and opportunities. Along with the spiraling love story unfolding between her and Henry Mynors, Anna grapples with finding her independence and is deeply divided between pleasing her oppressive father and her yearning to help a young man and his family from facing financial ruin.
Directed by Conrad Nelson, this dramatic depiction of life in the potteries tells a tale of the battle for female independence, the class divide and the sacrifices made by both the rich and poor to sustain their livelihoods.
Lucy Bromilow makes her first appearance at The New Vic and is fantastically stiff, solemn and sharp as Anna Tellwright. Having only her dictatorial father to look up to Anna has all the hallmarks of following in his footsteps, but the icy exterior melts when she meets her suitor, makes new friends and attempts to help those less fortunate than her.
Robin Simpson plays the autocratic Ephraim Tellwright and, whilst his speech especially in the louder more intense moments was at times difficult to hear, his characterisation was perfect. His pure disdain towards his daughter gaining her independence and being in control of her own money comes through with malice.
A shining performance also came from Rosie Abraham who played Anna’s delightful younger sister Agnes Tellwright. She bounced around the stage full of the energy of a young girl excited by life and seemed to represent the looking of the world through pure and innocent eyes. Molly Roberts (who I was last impressed by in The Snow Queen at Christmas) played Beatrice Sutton, a breath of fresh air against the more sombre scenes that make up the majority of the play. Susie Emmett is also superb as Beatrice’s mother, the light-hearted and deliciously persuasive Mrs Sutton.
The professional cast are joined by wonderful Phoenix Singers from Leek, who make up the ensemble in the musical numbers and are also present in some of the larger group scenes. The music has been directed and arranged by Ashley Thompson and in true New Vic style the scene transitions are met with beautiful songs sung in harmony by this talented cast many of whom also provide instrumental accompaniment.
The set by Dawn Allsopp is simple, comprising of cobbled flooring, Victorian dining room furniture, a pulpit and several miniature stages that jut out from the audience providing interesting angles and making the most of the theatre in the round. There was some particularly poignant moments in Act One whereby the music and dramaturgy was carefully choreographed by Beverley Norris Edmunds to depict the monotonous rigidity of the Tellwright’s lives.
This is a thought-provoking play that provides an insight into the workings of the Potteries, the struggles that women had to (and still have to) face in a mans world and the sacrifices made by those at both ends of the class spectrum.
Anna of the Five Towns plays at The New Vic Theatre until Saturday 17th June. To book tickets visit www.newvictheatre.org.uk.