“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” The infamous Austen quotation rings throughout Richmond Theatre as it opens Simon Reade’s adaptation of the much loved classic novel. Regent’s Park Theatre’s Pride and Prejudice – directed by Deborah Bruce – is an impressive adaptation of the original text; combining plot accuracy, original character interpretation and a sprinkle of humour to give new life to a stalwart member of English literary canon.
The first element of the production the audience notices upon entering the auditorium is the simple yet elegant stage. A set constructed of dark and gold ironwork curves in a semi-circle around the stage, providing the actors with doors, windows and even stairs to interact with. Its non-specific nature allows it to be utilized for a variety of different scenes, and its ability to rotate aids the audience’s perception of different locations.
After Mary kicks of proceedings by sitting down at her piano forte to provide musical accompaniment, an abundance of life enters the stage. The entire cast descends and performs a choreographic montage of relationships and interactions that introduces the characters with whom we are all so familiar – Mr Darcy, Elizabeth Bennet, Mrs Bennet, Miss Bennet, Miss Bennet… well, you get the picture. It is such choreographic elements and the director’s attention to detail that gives Pride and Prejudice a sense of finesse and polish. Every transition between scenes is considered and individual. A standout transition occurs when Elizabeth Bennet is admiring a line-up of busts – portrayed by their human characters opposed to inanimate props – Mr Darcy’s likeness comes to life in order to mark his unexpected arrival back to Pemberley, and transitioning seamlessly into a new scene.
There is an unexpected humorous approach to Jane Austen’s work in Regent’s Park Theatre’s interpretation, an approach that is mainly facilitated by the eccentricity of the characters. This is particularly effective in the characterisation of Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Collins. The essence of Mrs. Bennet’s changeable, bombastic and excessive personality is captured expertly by Felicity Montagu. Her ability to suddenly switch from exaggerated despair at Lydia’s infamy, to exaltation at discovering her daughter is in fact married is particularly hilarious. Steven Meo’s portrayal of the ridiculous Mr. Collins is also to be commended. His idiosyncratic tone of voice and his repeated extravagant bows all contribute to his comedic performance, yet his patronising treatment of women in general – and Elizabeth in particular – is a satirical reminder of antiquated attitudes towards women.
However, at times one questions whether the humour extends to too many characters, with even the solemn Mr. Darcy at times being the stimulus for laughter, his personality at times goofy and petulant as opposed to an enigmatic, solemn nebulas. His dramatic declaration of love to Elizabeth begins comically as he states “I love you… you will no doubt feel inferior…” (cue pause for laughter). This light-hearted beginning to one of the most revered speeches/arguments in literature is somewhat surprising, yet should be recognised as innovatively interpreting a well-known piece of dialogue in an original way.
Regent’s Park Theatre’s Pride and Prejudice is a triumphant conglomeration of witty characterisation, directorial consideration and a well written script. The variety of vocabulary used throughout the play starkly contrasts the simplicity of contemporary rhetoric, causing any linguist in the audience to lament the diminishment of the English language, and desperately seek out their Austen collection to revisit the works of the 19th Century genius.
Regent’s Park Theatre’s Pride and Prejudice is running at Richmond Theatre until November 19, and then goes on to tour further venues around the UK.
Photo: Johan Persson