Monday, 18 June 2012
A Rip-roaring Regency Rom-com!
After our evening picnic, Mum and I settled down in our camping chairs and huddled under our many layers to watch an adaptation of Pride & Prejudice by The Chapterhouse Theatre Company. As we waited, we wondered not only whether the set would survive the gale, but also if such a lengthy, complex and character-rich story could work as a two-hour play with just eight actors.
Before I go any further, I’d better admit that I’m an Austen anorak, and so I’m hard to please when it comes to any Austen adaptations. For me, Jane Austen’s eye for detail and observational humour is hard to beat; but would this play deliver the goods? I needn't have worried. Laura Turner’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice brought Austen’s penchant for the ridiculous to the fore. And then cranked it up a level.
I laughed long and loud at the hilarious performances delivered by the supporting cast, in particular by Mr. Collins and Mrs. Bennett. Liam Webster’s hilarious portrayal of Mr. Collins was a delight to behold. The talented Mr Webster also put in convincing performances as the infamous Mr. Wickham, Sir William Lucas and a highly entertaining footman. Helen Fullerton’s portrayal of Mrs. Bennett was equally side-splitting as she bustled around the stage shrieking “Mr Bennet!” and fussing over her four (yes four - no Kitty in this version!) daughters. The multi-talented Ms. Fullerton also played the roles of Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Mrs. Gardiner. Grace Scott’s excellent portrayals of Lydia Bennett and Caroline Bingley were equally convincing as both the bitchy Caroline and the frivolous Lydia.
Most faithful to Austen’s original characters were Mr Bingley / Mr. Gardiner played by James Beedham (who also played Col. Fitzwilliam’s servant), and Jane Bennett / Georgiana Darcy, played by Clara Edmunds (who also played Miss de Bourgh). I was charmed by both performers. I felt that Elizabeth Bennett, played by Samantha Hopkins, was a little forceful in her delivery at times, although she shone in later scenes, especially during her angry refusal of Darcy’s first proposal and her feisty response to the fury of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Adam Grayson was suitably moody and distant as Darcy and perfectly sardonic as Mr. Bennet.
My only real criticism was that the story was a little condensed, but that is probably because the original story unfolds quite slowly. That said, most of the details were faithfully reproduced, with only the odd change. For example, in the play Mr Darcy reveals Wickham’s true character during his first proposal speech to Elizabeth. (In the original, Darcy supplies this information to her via a letter). I acknowledge that it would've taken too long for the characters to sit and read a letter every five minutes, so the information had to be included in direct speech.
The stage and props were minimal but used to maximum effect. I was impressed by how well the actors managed to use a couple of chairs, boxes, the odd picture and a desk to evoke the grandeur of grand estates like Pemberley and Netherfield. The musical accompaniment was also simple yet effective, with various members of the cast playing woodwind and brass solos to accompany a change of scene or a dance. All in all, Mum and I really enjoyed the performance – it was brilliantly acted and well-scripted. And no, the wind did not flatten the set, much (I’m sure) to the cast’s relief!