Sitting at a pub table surrounded by actors can be intimidating. Yet, the assembled cast of Tony Cownie’s upcoming production of Declan Donnellan’s adaptation of Vanity Fair are able to put this journalist at ease by dint of the sheer enthusiasm they are bringing to the project. Given that seven performers must play a multitude of characters, their gusto will come in handy.
Thackery’s classic tale of Becky Sharp and her ruthless rise to prominence during the Napoleonic wars created one of the great pragmatists of literary history, but is she as unsympathetic as she at first seems? ‘She’s a survivor, I don’t know if she’s a hero, but she does what she has to,’ says performer Matthew Pidgeon. ‘She’s a bit of a bitch, but we admire her for it, I think.’
Another actor, Simon Muller attempts to explain Becky through citing the world she operates in: ‘I think the play challenges moral absolutes by setting up a series of characters who either think about themselves too much, or don’t think about themselves enough. At the start of the play you identify with the latter group, but as the novel goes on, it becomes way more ambivalent than that, given the society we see.’
Indeed, the production should highlight the parallels between the culture represented here and our own. ‘Everybody strives for something that isn’t worth having,’ says Anthony Eden, comparing the shallow consumerism of our culture to the one in the novel. Kim Gerard agrees: ‘Vanity Fair is a metaphor for the world, for society, and that idea of something being pretty, but we never get to what’s inside it, and never find the value.’
Can this many actors be wrong? Get along and find out. (Steve Cramer)