It is a truth universally acknowledged, that there is no such thing as too many adaptations of Pride and Prejudice. Right?
When I saw that Pride and Prejudice and Jane Eyre were part of this season’s drama at the Wales Millennium Centre, I was more than a little excited. Jane Eyre can be a bit drab, but has enough of that Brontë high gothic drama. Pride and Prejudice though, is life. I remember watching the 2005 Joe Wright and it filled me with so much joy. I jutted out my jaw, pouted and spoke like a walking thesaurus for weeks after, a la Keira (but more resembling Mr Collins). Controversially, I’ve never seen THAT BBC adaptation – I’ve tried watching it, but it doesn’t have the same sheen as this movie, it looks a bit dour. So to see my favourite of Jane Austen novels adapted for the stage, arguably favourite book – I leapt at the chance.
Fittingly, Simon Reade’s Pride and Prejudice first premiered at the Theatre Royal in Austen’s very own Bath in 2009, arriving in Cardiff via a revival in London’s Open Air Theatre . Reade has done a very good job adapting Pride into a succinct two hours and ten minutes (plus interval). The best parts of Pride and Prejudice are not Lizzie and Mr Darcy, regardless of how much promotional material will try and convince you. Austen gives her entire ensemble of supporting players a fully realised character. Who has time to swoon after Darcy when you’re wincing at Mr Collins or laughing at Mr and Mrs Bennett’s bickering?
Max Jones’ set itself is great. A deceptively simple two tier, wrought iron revolving frame which the drama unfurled around. The clever use of space and movement of props felt comfortingly old fashioned. The direction as well, was oddly old fashioned. Not at all naturalistic or subtle, many of the actors moved and shouted as if they were in an 19th century Oscar Wilde adaptation before the invention of microphones. It is almost a criticism, but I thought it worked, intentional or otherwise.
From the actors, Stars in the Eyes legend Matthew Kelly brought some camp to the droll Mr Bennet. Although I had thought it was Bridget’s Mum, turns out Felicity Montagu is not whom I thought, but a pleasant surprise nonetheless (Perpetua from Bridget Jones’ Diary to big bosomed Sue in Nighty Night). Felicity Montagu made a wonderful, shrieking Mrs Bennet (whose nerves you really do believe get the better of her). The rest of the cast was fine, competent. I didn’t much like the Lizzie or Mr Darcy – as Lizzie, Tafline Steen was enthusiastic but shouted too many of her line; Benjamin Dilloway was too haughty a Darcy to really believe the romance. Their eventual kiss had a delayed and less than enthused whoop from the audience. Casting wise, it was also good to see ‘colourblind casting’ in such a touring production. After the hoohah about black Hermione, it was good to not hear people moaning about the author’s intent. Jane Austen probably hadn’t imagine that 200 years later, they’d be making yet another adaptation of Pride, so who can say what her intent would be.
All In all, I didn’t dislike the evening and I would recommend it to Austen fans and cynics. I have enough residual interest in Pride and Prejudice to remain engaged throughout this adaption. It was mostly well acted, well adapted and competently staged, but for Austen with such a bright, vivid wit, this production was ever so slightly dull. Not up there with the 1995 or 2005 screen adaptations, but not down there with that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies disaster either.
So tonight Matthew, I’m going to be… underwhelmed by this Pride and Prejudice adaptation.
Pride and Prejudice is at Wales Millennium Centre until February 25th.
All pics pinched from the Pride and Prejudice the play website.
..and lastly. Just cos.