Jane Austen's Guide to Pornography“Start with a kiss.” Jane to Brett, in Jane Austen’s Guide to Pornography

Jane Austen’s Guide to Pornography by Steven Dawson has been brought to Perth by Out Cast Theatre as part of the 2007 Pride Festival.

I was pleasantly surprised by the performance, finding the themes universal and although parts need work, overall it was an enjoyable evening. Out Cast Theatre, based in Melbourne is a collective with “an emphasis on works relevant to the gay, lesbian, bi, straight, transgender communities” (www.sub.net.au/~outcast/). Jane Austen’s Guide to Pornography will appeal to all theatre goers as it touches on universal themes. 

Directed by Dawson, the play is about two writers from different eras debating romance versus sex. Jane Austen (played by Sean Ladhams) is trying to write something more enlivened. Brett (Michael Finney), firmly based in 20th Century Australia is stuck trying to write a new play that doesn’t involve sex and nude men. As they write, their scenes are performed centre stage by David Passmore and Matt Moran creating some of the funnier moments (and at other times also the most tedious). 

Whether intentional or not, the play felt like it was in two parts. Before interval the confronting language, images and themes around sex occurred, whilst post interval was calmer, more refined and ‘romantic’. There are some particularly graphic descriptions of sex, so it is not for those easily offended by such detail. There were moments that felt contrived and if you are a cynic, then the ending won’t sit well with you. Running at two hours with an interval, there are elements that could be tightened to make it snappier and more succinct, particularly towards the end. 

Overall, I felt that the piece needed a few more runs to smooth out the chinks. It is an interesting premise however, and I enjoyed thinking about the themes. Ladhams as Jane was the standout performance, impeccably encapsulating a female in the 18th century. I was fascinated by Ladhams constant hand gestures and fragile walk, portraying character traits without words, which is often overlooked (or un-remarked upon). Dawson’s writing fitted well into that era, and it was fascinating in the scenes where both Jane and Brett spoke, to listen to the changes and differences in speech, manner and tone. 

There were some genuinely touching moments towards the end, in particular the scenes where Brett tells Jane her future, and where Brett calls to Jane but finds himself alone (note to Dawson – floor work can’t be seen by much of audience). A simple set and lighting also by Dawson effectively delineated three playing areas and the actors rarely crossed over into others. The stage and backdrop was covered in white/grey canvas which provided contrast and some brilliant lighting moments. The music was mostly 18th century classical and although the operator lacked finesse with the music fades (and lighting cues for that matter) it was an interesting choice of music to have throughout the play – not just Jane’s scenes. However, the rain effect at the end drowned out the voices and the calm end.

I didn’t come out of Jane Austen’s Guide to Pornography completely blown away, but I had renewed hope for romance generally, and found it to be an emotive, multifaceted piece of theatre.

The Blue Room and OutCast Theatre present
Jane Austen's Guide to Pornography

Venue: The Blue Room Theatre | 53 James St Northbridge
Dates: 16 Oct - 27 - Oct (Tues - Sat)
Tickets: Full $26, Conc./Groups 10+/Blue Room & PRIDE Members $19
Bookings: 9227 7005 / www.pacs.org.au

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