Director Simon Reade brings a new adaptation of Pride and Prejudice to the stage, just in time for Austen’s 200th anniversary. For the benefit of those who have never read or watched Pride and Prejudice before, it is a humorous story of love and life among English gentility during the Georgian era, focusing on Mr Bennet, his overbearing wife and their five daughters. All is peaceful in their home in Hartfordshire until Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy arrive to shake things up a bit, prompting Mrs Bennet to marry off her daughters.
Simon Reade begins and ends the play with Mrs Bennet, played brilliantly by Felicity Montagu who announces: ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.’ This reinforces Austen’s statement on the social and economic foundations of the marriage transaction, and in doing so sees that the easily mocked Mrs Bennet does very well in this venture.
References to Georgian societal values are also portrayed through the icy and judgemental Miss Caroline Bingley, played by Kirsty Rider who made her professional debut. Rider is one of the actors I was most impressed with; encapsulating Caroline’s stern nature and snide remarks perfectly, she was a pleasure to watch. Equally as exceptional in their performance was Mr Bennet, Matthew Kelly and Mrs Bennet, Felicity Montagu who worked extremely well together. Kelly’s sarcastic tone in response to Montagu’s seemingly trivial comments produced a comedic effect which I’m sure Austen would be proud of.
However, the novel’s interest lies with the liaison between Elizabeth and Mr Darcy. It is fair to say, that Benjamin Dilloway, (Mr Darcy) had a lot to live up to following Colin Firth and Matthew Macfadyen, and to an extent he does manage to portray the smouldering and stern Mr Darcy. The only criticism I would give is that he could have been a little less comical and a little more intimate when he declares his love for Elizabeth. Unfortunately, this scene produced a laugh from the audience which I don’t think was the intended result. I know that Austen’s novel does contain witty jokes, irony and a great deal of humorous content, but leave that to Mr and Mrs Bennet, don’t bring Mr Darcy and Elizabeth into it. However, Tafline Steen, a graduate from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, brought an outstanding sense of independence to Elizabeth, though, at times it did seem as if she was shouting her lines to the audience rather than being invested in her character.
In terms of staging, of course the adaptation offers a more diluted version of Austen’s novel, however, this did not stand in the way of Deborah Bruce, with an impressively well staged production. Likewise, Max Jones ingeniously creates a revolving two-tier set with wrought iron gates, which manages to accommodate each new setting.
Overall, the play succeeded more as a comedy than a romance, but nonetheless it was still a thoroughly enjoyable experience which I’m sure Austen would be proud of.