Note that Persuasion Transposed is now performed in the Palace Hotel, in a change from both the printed programme and the Fringe website.
If you could go back and time and meet your younger self, what would you choose to tell them? Which youthful follies would you warn them to avoid? When 27-year-old Anne Elliot – heroine of Jane Austen's Persuasion – realises she's sharing a stage with her 19-year-old self, she wastes no time in dispensing advice: seize your chance of happiness, reject the strictures of society, send that meddlesome godmother packing… and above all, marry Captain Wentworth.
This is a deconstructed version of Persuasion, where the characters know they live in a fictional world and are resigned to the certainty that frequent plot twists will turn their lives upside down. Playwright Ray Sutton finds a lot of quiet humour here: the two Annes wearily recognise the invisible hand adding complications to their life, but also know that however desperate things might seem, an improbable coincidence may shortly save them. Sutton's direction is strong as well, and the comic timing is impeccable across the board, with unexpected interruptions and knowing pauses adding constant sparkle to the words.
Rebekah McLoughlin and Bekah Sloan deliver fine individual performances, but also complement each other as the older and younger Anne. The contrast between the sparky 19-year-old and the more measured twenty-something is nicely-worked, and the sharp modern-language bickering between the two is a recurring highlight of the play. They're supported by a cast of three "extras" – their words, not mine – who dip into and out of other roles; Tom Burroughs, in particular, makes a heart-melting Captain Wentworth, proud and mannered yet carrying so much secret pain.
Together, they also do a fine job of telling the original story of Persuasion. I went into the show knowing only the outlines of the plot, but Sutton's script runs a clear thread through Austen's original storyline, even as he adds loops and wrinkles of his own. My attention did drift during a couple of chunks of exposition – and I wonder if those who do know the twists and turns of the original might find some scenes covering familiar ground – but as a way of introducing a classic text to a new audience, it unambiguously succeeds.
The highlight for me, though, comes at the very end, with a bittersweet epilogue that looks the truth about Austen's escapist oeuvre squarely in the eye. This is what the whole play's been building towards; it knits the meta-theatrical shenanigans eloquently together, and it respects a great author's work while refusing to place her on a pedestal. It's a bold and moving ending for an intelligently entertaining play. And so, I urge you to see it, with all my powers of persuasion.