(On tour until February 25)
Pride and Prejudice
A regular Regency romp, played for laughs… Such a rollercoaster of comedy may not seem quite in keeping with Miss Austen’s noted wit,
waspishness and irony, but she would surely have been impressed by the setting: an immense, intricate staircase and balustrade; up and down the girls scamper, and the family disposes itself as if for a painting. Most splendidly, in one remarkably clever scene, it represents Pemberley. Inside, predominately a dining room, the scene changes, it has to be said, amount to quite a lot of housework. And it’s all delicately choreographed, movement as well as dancing, enhanced by the music.
With a veritable cast of thousands, not everybody has the chance to shine, largely because so many of the characters are thoroughly disagreeable. Yet not Mr Bennet, in the more than capable hands of Matthew Kelly; he, perhaps surprisingly, comes across as sadly disillusioned rather than constantly unpleasant. Not that anybody could blame him, with such an irritating, irrational wife, but fair play to Felicity Montagu, perhaps chanelling Julia Mackenzie, who is memorable more for her hilarious performance. After all, it is hard in this day and age to fully appreciate how desperate their circumstances, with five daughters to marry off and the loss of the estate because of the lack of a son.
And where the cast is concerned, should be ladies first but the men are sadly outnumbered. Unfortunately, Benjamin Dilloway concentrates so much on Darcy’s pride, so stuck up almost his sole expression is of one having to confront a constantly disgusting smell, it is nigh impossible to imagine what on earth Jane can see in him. In huge contrast, Steven Meo deserves much of the laughs as the oily, obnoxious Mr Collins – and Charlotte Lucas (Francesca Bailey), whose practical attitude seems to echo the writer’s, deserves far better.
The true villain of the piece is meant to be Mr Wickham (Daniel Abbott) but he comes across as rather too affable, while the other two villains, or rather, wicked witches, are Doña Croll as the overbearing, patronising (literally) Lady Catherine De Bourgh and Kirsty Rider: Miss Caroline Bingley. A promising debut while she is being deliciously catty but so obviously hankering about Darcy does not seem in keeping.
Sadly, the Bennet girls are almost indistinguishable, although Mari Izzard is horrendously self-centred as Lydia, and Leigh Quinn beguilingly polishes up her cameo as an amusingly skittsh Mary, even if it begs the question of her being a bookworm, ie somewhat sedate; it would have to be explained away by shyness. Tafline Steen (Elizabeth) rather puts older sister Jane (Hollie Edwin) in the shade; she appears almost stolid beside the lively heroine although it’s a pity that the quick-witted Lizzie is so scattergun with dialogue, quite a lot cannot be comprehended.
Maybe not one for the purists, but generally speaking, it’s a sparkling entertainment.