Friday, September 22

Emma – The Pantaloons at Speke Hall

I’m a long-time fan of The Pantaloons and so it was a pleasure to see them back performing in the beautiful grounds OF Speke Hall with four new Loons making up the party.

Emma was Jane Austen’s fourth novel, first published in 1815, and tells the story of Emma Woodhouse (Rachel Cumming), a rich and spoiled young woman who takes it upon herself to become a matchmaker for the society of the town of Highbury, Surrey – while looking out for someone handsome, clever, and rich for herself – and in which the many parts of friends, relations, romantic interests, and anyone else vaguely relevant to the plot are mixed up and performed in true Pantaloons-style by James Alston, Molly Cheesley, and Richard Lessen. The question is, amid all the shenanigans and social mores, can she avoid the tornadoes, sinkholes, and sharks on her journey to discover true love?

Writer and Director Mark Haywood – a founding member – has much to be proud of with his dramatisation that whittles down the original’s 120,000+ words into a more manageable 14,000 and removes a number of unnecessary characters to the plot in a manner any modern editor would be truly proud. The result is Regency meets 21st Century with the usual boundaries to classic literature summarily dispatched while retaining and augmenting enough of the original’s sardonic humor and satire to encourage us to pick up and get stuck into an original tome.

With the simplest of staging and the backdrop of Speke Hall itself, an exuberant cast threw themselves into the mix with hats, bonnets and the merest of props allowing a seamless transformation of character at both sides of the stage to maintain the energetic pace of storytelling with its clever wordplay, staged interruptions and repetition reinforced with some occasional musical accompaniment and plenty of slapstick and mime.

Although Cummins has appeared once previously, Alston, Cheesley, and Lessen were all making their Pantaloons debuts, following in the footsteps of some very talented performers who have gone before them in establishing the reputation of this company; they didn’t let anyone down as these four talented Bright Young Things served up a delightful repartee of purposefully awful gags combined with Regency wit, all the time having to navigate some particularly excessive noise from the adjacent airport which can derail many a performer but not tonight; in fact the only thing that outfoxed them briefly what was the appearance of a fox but they soon made light of that.

The Pantaloons are a vibrant and anarchic theatre company bringing a vital sense of ‘play’ back to classical performance. Further details of them and their current touring productions at

Speke Hall is one of the finest examples of a wood framed wattle-and-daub Tudor manor house and is open to the public. Amongst the many things to discover there are a thunderbox toilet, a priest hole and where the word ‘eavesdrop’ comes from, but not, as an American tourist once queried, why they built it so close to the airport! Further details available at

Now if you want to combine a visit with more Pantaloons performances then you’re in luck as they return with not one but two more productions this summer with The Comedy of Errors on Saturday 5th August at 7pm and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland on Saturday 19th August at 7pm. All you need to do is turn up with a picnic and settle back for some great comic performances from a cast and company clearly revelling in entertaining you.

Reviewer: Mark Davoren

Reviewed: 7th July 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.