REVIEW: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen adapted by Simon Reade
“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” And so, without further ado, Carol Hunt’s stylish, beautifully costumed and choreographed production was on its way.
Imogen Willetts found the right mix of pride and prejudice for an entrancing and utterly believable Miss Elizabeth Bennet. A very handsome (“Poldark-esqe”) young Darcy (James Slacke), could not fail to attract her attention, especially as his own pride and prejudice fell away, revealing a person of equally high morals and compassion. The exquisite tension between them was palpable, especially in some of the early scenes of looks and glances, brief moments of touch in superbly executed dance or their erudite conversational jousts.
Around them swept the mix of Austen’s wonderful personalities. The Bennet family, led by Bill Allender (Mr Bennet) and Gini Comyns (Mrs Bennet), were a pleasure to watch, each finding their character and remaining within it throughout. Aisling Tigwell had the softness required of Miss Jane Bennett that matched a gentleness within Paul Kerry’s, Mr Bingley, and contrasted with the worldly harshness of Miss Caroline Bingley (Elizabeth Annetts). Francesca Surman was a stunningly spirited Miss Lydia Bennett who entrapped, as much as was entrapped, by Carey Poole’s Mr Wickham. Landing in their midst was the slimy Mr Collins; Glen Marks’ performance captured it all, reaching a high, or low, point, with his manners at the Bennet’s dinner table, and yet we could understand why Miss Charlotte Lucas (Rebecca Barrie) would marry him nonetheless. And towards the end, we enjoyed the sharpness of Lady Catherine De Bourgh (Tessa Boase), her own pride and prejudice put in its place by Miss Elizabeth Bennet in the ascendancy.
The story is well known, with many adaptations but its retelling for the stage was no less engaging, delighting us with the anticipated scenes of famous encounters, amorous and humorous. The swiftness of the passing scenes and the amount of material to be covered made it all, at times, too brief, but director Carol Hunt distilled its essence. Her skill was to get the very best from individual performers and shape the many larger scenes of ensemble acting and movement. Lights, sound and choreography (Viv Wormley-Healing) worked their magic and clever set design and scene changing enabled it to move along with pace. In Austen’s words, it was “light and bright, and sparkling”.