Review: Vanity Fair

A comedy of fortunes, errors, and everything in between…

If you’re on the search for romance, gossip, and some good old-fashioned deceit, look no further than CUADC’s fantastic production of Vanity Fair.

William Makepeace Thackeray’s 1848 satirical novel makes for the most exciting of stage plays, perfect for some mid-exam-madness and a break from revision. Kate Hamill’s comedic and innovative adaptation focuses on the absurd moral judgments we as humans make in order not merely to survive, but to thrive in a changing world of war, peace, and of course, love.

From left to right: Jaden Tsui, Katya Stylianou, Hugo Gregg, Jacob Benhayoun, and Temitope Idowu. Image Credits: Benjamin Nichols

Set against the backdrop of regency England, Vanity Fair – directed by the brilliant Arianna Muñoz – it tells the story of two young women, Becky Sharpe and Amelia Sedley, as they careen through courtships, marriage, childbirth and death.

While the women begin the play as friends, life takes them in different directions, drawing them away from one another, until they eventually reunite, albeit under rather strained circumstances.

Friends forever? Left: Angela Okafor as Amelia Sedley and right: Tempitope Idowu as Becky Sharpe (Image Credits: Benjamin Nicholson)

On entering the theatre, the audience was greeted with an incredible Bridgerton-esque soundtrack created by the talented Medomfo Owusu. As the orchestral pop music gradually faded into an eclectic mix of fairground organs and sinister carousel tunes, the auditorium hushed as the tone was set perfectly for Thakeray’s narrative chaos to play out.

This powerful pre-performance atmosphere was carried through to the opening of the play, headed by the mischeievous Jaden Tsui who juggled the roles of Manager, Aunt Matilda, and Lord Steyne with a graceful ease that gave the play a sense of continuity and movement throughout the differing stages of the characters’ lives.

The decision to cast the same actor to play all three characters was an inspired one, allowing these figures to meld and diverge into three different facets of the overarching governing force of Becky’s life; the desire for money and approval.

This opening scene was a triumph of lighting, with dappled spotlights transforming the red curtain into an exquisite rainbow of fairground wonder, as the stage was set, quite literally, for the story to begin.

Jaden Tsui opening the show as the Manager (Image Credits: Benjamin Nicholson)

While there were some mistakes in tech, presumably due to first night nerves, credit must be given to the backstage team for keeping calm and carrying on with what was a rather technically demanding play. Overall the set, lighting, and particularly the costumes – designed respectively by Cody Knight, Cat Salvini, and Ramisa Hassan – added a marvellously whimsical element to this already fanciful portrayal of high society regency England, particularly excelling in the fairground and theatre scenes.

Ballgowns galore! From left to right: Naphysa Awuah, Temitope Idowu, Ollie Flowers, and Angela Okafor (Image Credits: Benjamin Nicholson)

The play had an absolutely wonderful cast, led by Temitope Idowu’s snide and conniving Becky Sharpe, and Angela Okafor’s soft and retiring Amelia, each actor beautifully complementing the other’s performance.

The pacing was sharp throughout and kept the audience hooked through the use of well-timed blackouts and swift scene changes, utilising the space in front of the red curtain not only to signify changes in space and time, but also to remind the audience that we too are party to the Manager’s tricks; mere puppets in his play of mischief and strife.

Multi-rolling! The ensemble cast seamlessly switched between characters. From left to right Hugo Gregg, Katya Stylianou, and Temitope Idowu (Image Credits: Benjamin Nicholson)

Kailan Hanson’s tender and tremendously lovesick Dobbin was an audience favourite, garnering much deserved cheers as he stood up to Ollie Flowers’ slimy and unfaithful George and returned from India, finally triumphant in love.

Jacob Benhayoun’s sedate and brooding Rawdon was the perfect antithesis to the overtly sentimental and scheming Becky, providing the realist’s perspective throughout the play. The ensemble cast were also fantastic, with standout performances from Katya Stylianou, Naphysa Awuah and Hugo Gregg, adding to the building atmosphere of chaos and farce that made this play so incredibly watchable.

The triumphant Dobbin played by Kailan Hanson (Image Credits: Benjamin Nicholson)

With some tightening of the technical aspects, this play has the potential to be a five star performance, and was a samsh hit in character driven theatre.

Vanity Fair pulled the audience in and created one of the most enjoyable theatre experiences I have ever been lucky enough to have in Cambridge.

A theatrical triumph of two hours of laughter, fun and the slightest hint of narratively necessary sadness, Vanity Fair is not a play to be missed!


Vanity Fair is on at the ADC Theatre from 25th-28th of May at 7:45 PM. Tickets can be purchased from the theatre itself or on the ADC website here.

Featured Image Credits: Winnie Zhu