Writer: Jane Austen
Adaptor: Simon Reade
Director: Deborah Bruce
Reviewer: Dan English
Jane Austen’s famous novel comes to life once more in this new production of Pride and Prejudice as the love story continues its UK tour.
Matthew Kelly and Felicity Montagu are the Bennets as Deborah Bruce’s production unravels the tribulations of their search for successful suitors to their daughters. It is the timeless classic as Mr Darcy (Benjamin Dilloway) attempts to charm Elizabeth (Tafline Steen), who struggles to overcome the blindness of her prejudice towards him. A tale that revolves around social classes and wealth over love, Reade’s adaptation of Austen’s work seeks to capture the essence of the novel and present it in a new way.
It is a continuous testament to Reade’s respect for Austen that so much of her original work is preserved in this script. That said, there are moments in this production where the lengthy scenes border on the tedious side and although one may argue it would ruin the plot to omit certain scenes, aspects of this production lend themselves much more to the page rather than the stage in this, just shy of three hours, performance.
Kelly and Montagu are a delight as the Bennets. Kelly’s long-suffering Mr Bennet is amusing throughout, particularly in his despair at his wife’s longing to play matchmaker for her daughter. Mr Bennet feels somewhat underused at times in this performance, which only enhances the enjoyment when he reappears. Montagu’s disparing Mrs Bennet is equally as amusing, with Montagu relying on her wealth of comedy experience to create a character as lovable as she is dreadful. The moments throughout when Mrs Bennet attempts to pair her daughters off with viable suitors often provide humorous moments, with the pair providing much of the comic relief.
Steen’s Elizabeth and Dilloway’s Darcy conjure an instant connection between the pair that lifts the relationship from the page to the stage. When the pair reconcile their differences, there are moments of real tenderness between the two, with their chemistry evoking strong audience reactions towards the climax. Dilloway does well to preserve Darcy’s snobbish demeanour and battles well against Steen’s fiercely fiery Elizabeth. Their exchanges are absorbing with both performers delivering the complex words of Austen effortlessly.
Steven Meo’s Mr Collins is wonderfully silly, picking holes in the expected decorum of nineteenth-century men and using his physicality to create an absurdly funny character. But despite the waves of comedy, there are touching moments too, no more so than through downtrodden Mary Bennet, the ugly duckling of the Bennet sisters so beautifully performed by Leigh Quinn.
Max Jones’ set design creatively imagines the numerous lavish locations that dominate this production. The grandeur of the characters’ lives in encapsulated in his backdrop, centralised by a useful revolve that allows for swift switches between setting. A particular highlight of this is during a dinner scene at the Bennet’s, where the revolve allows for a perfect view of the various character reactions. Jones’ design takes into accord that this is a touring production, with simple gated backdrops allowing the spectator to imagine and immerse themselves in Austen’s brainchild. Previously performed in Regent’s Park as an open-air performance, the leafy projection goes someway to transporting the production back to its outdoors beginnings, with the revolve allowing for the theatre In the round experience.
Enhanced by a simple set and delivered by a superb cast, Pride and Prejudice encapsulates all that preserves Austen’s novel as a classic. There are moments which feel best left to the novel rather than the stage, but this is an accurate adaptation of a literary classic.
Runs until 4 February 2017 | Image: Johan Persson