‘It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man of good fortune must be in want of a wife’ – these are the quintessential lines that both open and close the Regents Park Theatre Company’s frivolous and titillating take on the Austen classic. Based on the adaptation by Simon Reade, Austen’s whit and sarcasm come to the forefront; even the most innocuous of lines resonated with the audience – with exaggerated gestures and diction adding a greater sense of clarity. The humour overtook all other facets of the original however; fans of the romantic ‘Pride and Prejudice’ should probably stay clear – but as lover of Austen’s inherent Cynicism I was certainly in for a treat!
The original title of Austen’s novel was ‘First Impressions’ which perhaps best sums up the narrative of the play. The focus is on the interaction
between people; high and low class, rich and poor, male and female, young and old, innocent and manipulative. With all these ideas in motion, the actors are free to play up to the inevitable conflict of personalities. The marital bickering between Mr and Mrs Bennet, played by Olivier award-winning Matthew Kelly, and comedienne Felicity Montagu respectively, is arguably the most enjoyable and convincing I have seen (which is surprising considering my intense love of the Colin Firth BBC adaptation). In fact, what I perhaps liked most about the direction, undertaken by Deborah Bruce, was the greater focus placed upon the lesser characters.
The turbulent relationship of Elizabeth and Darcy seems somewhat secondary, even peripheral, in contrast to the comical, bumbling portrayal of Mary Bennet (Leigh Quinn), the character usually occupying that periphery. Even the typically ridiculous characters of Mr Collins (Steven Meo) and Lady Catherine De Bourgh (Doña Croll) seem heightened, but not to the detriment of the performance; it seems almost natural for them to assume the spotlight. It is this inversion of primary and secondary characters that makes this performance so special and unique.
The staging itself was typically The REP: simplistic and practical yet with a somewhat inherent sense of elegance. In particular Max Jones, the set designer, should be congratulated for the use of the rotating stage and simplistic metal frame (which served for Pemberly, Netherfield, Rosing’s Park, Longbourn and countless other locations). The costume, again, was simplistic but by no means was that a bad thing. It was inherently Georgian but also practical for the necessary physicality of the various roles. I especially liked the use of a bright red riding coat worn by Lydia (Mari Izzard) in the latter portion of the play to highlight her infamy.
A play based on such a popular novel could either go terribly
or wonderfully, and I’m pleased to confirm the latter. Its focus on humour is refreshing compare to the plethora of emotionally fraught and tear-evoking adaptations out there. It is simply a visual and auditory spectacle, it’s not political and it doesn’t try and be something it’s not. It sets out to entertain and that is exactly what it does, with the cast making us chortle until the very end.