When Helen Taylor narrated the audiobook of Elizabeth von Arnim’s 1922 novel ‘The Enchanted April’ a few years ago, she fell completely in love with it.
“Arnim’s eye for character is acute, and her humour is reminiscent of Jane Austen. Like Austen she takes apparently ordinary lives, and with sparkling wit, compassion and a real understanding of human frailties, she weaves a charming and unforgettable story,” the director says.
In what feels like an increasingly bleak world, this romantic, funny, charming slice of 1920s life offers audiences exactly what the title suggests -Enchantment
Helen had read the novel in her teens and later watched Mike Newell’s lovely movie adaptation starring Miranda Richardson and Josie Lawrence.
But when Helen discovered there was a stage adaptation, she knew it would be a delight to direct.
The result is ElevenOne Theatre’s version coming to OFS from Tuesday which follows two women, Lotty and Rose.
The middle class Hampstead housewives are both stifled by their lives in a bleak and dreary post-WW1 London, and miserable in their marriages.
Lotty is a free spirit, and she’s trying (and failing) to live up to her stuffy husband’s expectations and crushed by the sheer tedium of her days. Communication in Rose and Frederick’s marriage has broken down, and the marriage is teetering on the brink of collapse.
When they come across an advertisement for an Italian castle available to rent for the month of April, Lotty and Rose pluck up the courage to make a break for it, leave their husbands behind them, and take a holiday from their lives.
In order to cover the costs, they advertise for two other ladies to join them, and fate sends them the most unlikely housemates, in the form of Mrs Graves – a hilariously crusty, judgemental elderly lady – and Lady Caroline, aristocratic socialite and darling of the gossip columns, whose glamorous life belies her intense unhappiness and loneliness. They have their own reasons for seeking refuge from their lives.
What the four find in Italy is more than a holiday, it’s a life changing experience. Of course, it isn’t all plain sailing: The four aren’t natural companions, and when erstwhile husbands – and the handsome owner of the castle – arrive on the scene, comic confusion ensues. But falling under the spell of the Italian April, amidst the sunshine and wisteria, they shed their inhibitions, rediscover their self-esteem, face up to their problems, laugh, and rediscover romance.
“If only a little enchantment would step in for us all” says Lotty, “To change what we have into what we wish for”.
In what feels like an increasingly bleak world, this romantic, funny, charming slice of 1920s life offers audiences exactly what the title suggests, and what we all need sometimes. Enchantment.
The Enchanted April runs at OFS from October 8-12, 7.30pm and 2.30pm on Saturday
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