Revisiting Mansfield Park in Southend

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Celebrating 200 years since Mansfield Park was first published, the classic Jane Austen story is returning to the stage, bringing the tale of the famous Fanny Price to the Palace Theatre in Southend next week.

Returning after its successful national tour last year, the spell-binding production follows the life and loves of Fanny Price – a young girl who finds herself bustling from one crisis to another in the aristocrat household of her uncle Sir Thomas Bertram.

“It’s a real Cinderella story about how a humble young girl gets taken into a family and isn’t treated terribly well,” says Ffion, who plays Price in the production. “She’s the epitome of being feminine at the time but she’s a bit of an odd Jane Austen heroine. She’s quite a brave and incredibly strong character, although at times she’s so timid, you just want to shake her!”

Having already been adapted for the screen starring the likes of Billie Piper, Frances O’Conner and Johnny Lee Miller, Mansfield Park is one of Jane Austen’s classics – however Ffion admits she was unfamiliar with the book when she first auditioned for the role.

“I’ve always been a fan of Pride and Prejudice, but I have to confess I hadn’t actually read Mansfield Park before I auditioned,” says the 29-year-old actress. “I remember studying Jane Austen at school and wondering how on earth someone could use so many words to describe one single moment. But I think nowadays we’ve got so used to using social media and only having so many characters to say how we’re feeling – everything is done so quickly now. So I’m really enjoying the rich language she uses.”

Translated onto the stage by Tim Luscombe and directed by Colin Blumenau, Mansfield Park has already been described as a ‘rivetting adaptation, created with love and affection’ – something that Ffion agrees with entirely.

“There’s gorgeous costumes, simple sets and brilliant language. It really is a romantic journey in the early 1800s,” she says.

“But what I think really makes Jane Austen’s writing translate so well onto the stage and screen is the characters,” she adds. “A lot of people find her books hard to read because they’re so ‘wordy’, but when you see the characters in front of you, they’re really brought to life. You have everything from very subtle characters to really over-blown characters and the heroines are so human and flawed, you really go on a journey with them.”

Indeed, as her second run as Fanny Price, Ffion has grown a likeness to the role – even if she has been a ‘challenge’ to play.

“Fanny has been a real challenge, but that’s what I like as an actress,”
she says. “It’s the challenge to make her attractive as a character and also win over the sympathy of the audience. The issues are still pretty fundamental – love and relationships.

“But I’m by no means as shy or timid as she is,” she giggles.

Mansfield Park runs at the Palace Theatre in Southend from Tuesday, 3 to Saturday, 7 September. For tickets, call the Box Office on 01375 351135 or visit palacetheatresouthend.co.uk.

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