Pride and Prejudice – The HOUSE, Birmingham REP

Writer: Simon Reade from the book by Jane Austen
Director: Deborah Bruce
Reviewer: Clare White

It might be over 200 years old but Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice remains one of the most popular novels in English literature, selling over 20 million copies and spawning numerous adaptations, including the popular 1995 BBC series starring Colin Firth. Following sell-out performances in London, Regent’s Park Theatre’s critically acclaimed production of Austen’s romantic comedy gets a well-deserved UK tour.

Simon Reade’s adaptation of the 19th Century classic is vibrant, funny and captivating, breathing fresh air into Austen’s narrative. Right from the off, the animated relationship between Mr and Mrs Bennet is captured perfectly by Matthew Kelly and Felicity Montagu. With five unmarried daughters, Mrs Bennet is eager they all make ‘good’ (wealthy) marriages to improve the fortunes and social standing of the family.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged,” says Mrs Bennet, “that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.”

Mrs Bennet gets a bad rep for her melodramatics and unbecoming behaviour, but frankly, she has every right to worry – with a husband keen to bury his head in the sand and the possibility of five daughters left on the shelf, financial and social disaster would have been inevitable. Bringing just the right balance of hysteria, humour and vigour to the role, Montagu is superb as Mrs Bennet. It is a character which could easy become a bit ‘panto’, but she is pitch perfect as the family’s matriarch.

Matthew Kelly is perhaps better known for his television presenting, but he is, in fact, an Olivier award-winning actor, and makes an excellent Mr Bennet. His comic timing is particularly good.

Tafline Steen shines as the quick-witted Elizabeth Bennet, showing grace and fierceness in equal measure, and Benjamin Dilloway’s portrayal of Mr Darcy is as suitably brooding and brusque. While the emotional chemistry seems lacking slightly, their characters’ dislike for each other is palpable, so much so that despite the fact that the audience knows full well where things are heading, here is an almighty gasp when Darcy finally declares his love for Elizabeth.

The production sees many of the younger cast members making fine professional debuts, including Hollie Edwin as Jane Bennet and Kirsty Rider as Caroline Bingley. Praise must also go to Steven Meo, whose physicality and delivery of pompous and creepy Mr Collins gives many laugh-out-loud moments.

A simple yet ingenious two-tiered revolving set, complete with wrought iron gates, gently adapts to the story’s changes in setting and original music composed for the production by Lillian Henley is a charming addition.

It is a classy adaptation, fresh, funny and faithful to Austen’s drama and wit. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Runs until 12 November 2016 | Image: Johan Persson

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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