The Heiress, Wharf Theatre, Devizes

THE Heiress converts Henry James’ somewhat substantial novel, Washington Square, into a more easily digestible tale.

Helen Wuscher takes on the title role of Catherine Sloper, the socially inept and plain-looking heiress to a fortune. Her father, Dr Austin Sloper (Lewis Cowen) has never forgotten that his beloved wife died giving birth to Catherine and cannot forgive Catherine for being so unlike his beautiful, vivacious wife.

So when handsome young Morris Townsend (Kevin Smith) claims to have fallen in love with Catherine on first sight, Dr Sloper dismisses him as a fortune hunter.

Ms Wuscher interprets an immensely challenging role with great skill. She takes the audience through a huge range of emotions; the agony of chronic shyness, overwhelming gratitude to find she is lovable; despair at her father’s hardness, brief but intense joy in love and inconsolable grief when she is jilted. But that is not the end of the story, not quite.

Lewis Cowen gives a totally believable performance as the father who has his daughter’s best interests at heart, but has an insensitive way of showing it.

He shows us a man still too wrapped up in his own loss to understand the pain he causes his only child.

Kevin Smith as the suitor, Morris, seemed to lack a little conviction now and then, but grew in stature as the drama progressed and had the audience guessing as to his true motives at the end, just as the authors intended.

In the pivotal role of Mrs Lavinia Penniman, Catherine’s aunt, Tina Duffin was warm and sympathetic, desperate to give the thwarted romance a happy ending.

There is an excellent supporting cast in Deanna Capper’s production, which runs until Saturday.

Jo Bayne