Vanity Fair, an (im)morality play by Kate Hamill, is an adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel by the same name. The novel, first published with the subtitle ‘A novel without a hero’, is Thackeray’s commentary on literary heroism and imagining a world without any sympathetic character: hence the subtext theme of immorality. This adaptation of Vanity fair at the ADC was a good representation of this with its satirical elements reflecting on the British society of the early 19th century.
Vanity fair opens with the manager and all the characters introducing the world of Vanity Fair to the audience. From that moment till the very last, the actors keep your attention with the occasional breaking of the fourth wall cutting the simplistic tunes of the play with a more satirical overtone. The set design, music and lights all add both solemnity and multiple dimensions to the play.
The show’s music was melodious and brought the pomp of the play and its characters to the stage. The light design was intricate and helped understand the tangled nature of the characters and their story. The use of stage space and movement of the actors on stage was smooth and helped the story flow. The choice of music and lights (Tirza Sey and Cat Salvini) and the overall vision of the director (Arianna Muñoz) gives the play a new life, complimenting the storytelling and harmonising the story. Although, I think that a few cuts in the script would’ve definitely enhanced the play’s avidity and made it more appealing.
The actors keep you engrossed in their plight as they rise and fall in tides of romance, social status and morality. Thackeray’s unreliable narrator brings an element of disruption to the story which works really well in the play.
Watching Amelia and Becky come full circle from the time they left school to them reuniting at the play’s end, the young ladies grow into mature women experiencing Cupid and Lady fortune’s gifts and curses. Temitope Idowu (Becky) and Angela Okafor (Amelia) show this transition with grace and a contentious commentary on society’s judgemental nature against women who standout. Jacob Benhayoun’s Rawdon and Ollie Flower’s George are brilliant and brought great chemistry with Becky and Amelia respectively. However, it’s Kailan Hanson’s Dobbin who steals the show as the audience sympathise with the ‘friendzoned’ man’s plight. The impassioned portrayal of various characters by Hugo Gregg is worth a special mention. Katya Stylianou and Naphysa Awuah’s presence on the stage brought enthusiasm and cheerfulness and they make the best use of the limited roles they portray. Jaden Tsui’s Miss Crawley and Lord Steynne were great performances as they transitioned from light-hearted to envious villainy but their portrayal of the Manager lacked the lustre and grandeur needed to uplift the role.
Although intended as a play with no heroes, we end up sympathising with most of the characters and become vested in how fortune favours them and then takes everything away all at once. This abruptness brings sharp emotions in the characters and the audience feels their plight. It also brings an element of puppetry and how the circumstances play out quite differently than the characters imagined, making them question their choices and identity. Vanity Fair’s satirical elements and commentary on social stature are the highlight of the show. Even though the story is simplistic, the entangled characters make you feel the complexity of situations and how each choice leads to a new beginning either favouring them or making them lose everything.
Good isn’t good enough for a lifetime and everything has its own cost. Becky tries to play the game and Amelia tries to make sense of Fortune’s deeds. In the end, Becky’s need to save her own skin with the fear of ‘no consequence, no protection, no future’ comes to a fallible conclusion as she is not saved by a man but her old friend. Vanity Fair keeps judging its lead women from start to end without remorse or doubt.
Resetting the play in modern times with a more satirical and pompous backdrop would definitely be an interesting take on this Victorian era play about immorality. Until then, Vanity Fair at the ADC theatre offers an interesting evening of pomp, show and frivolity with specks of commentary on social status and power.