I’ve been meaning to go and see one of the outdoor performances in Jesmond Dene for a while. Last week, I finally got to one — Emma, by Jane Austen, on a lovely, bright friday evening.

The story itself isn’t really up to much. Almost all of the main characters are unlikeable and unengaging; Emma, herself, is an interfering, arrogant and affected snob, with no redeeming characteristics; she barely stands out against the characters who are meant to be unpleasant. Very little happens that is of particular interest; I can’t find it in my heart to be excited about a ball or a picnic. There wasn’t even the consolation of a few tragic deaths; the one funeral is a minor character, and you can’t take pleasure in that. During the big finale it all ends well for Emma who gets hitched; but, I felt sorry for her other half, and what was being inflicted on him.

Despite this, the adaptation and performance by Heartbreak Productions, was excellent. The actors shifted between multiple characters with ease, and then made full use of cheap theatrical tricks to make up for the simple set and small cast. The audience participation was funny without being irritating, and the dropped out-of-character to provide narration and expand on plot lines. They added to this with reflections on the story (“it’s all about women sitting on chairs, arguing about which chair they are going to sit on next”), as well as the occasional, gentle knob gag to keep the blokes happy.

At the end of it, I was insect-infested with a sore neck and backside from sitting on the grass, but had had a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Well worth seeing.