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A CurtainUp London London Review
Pride and Prejudice

"She is tolerable but not handsome enough to tempt me." — Darcy
Pride and Prejudice
The Bennet girls and their father (Photo: Johan Persson)
Jane Austen's novel Pride and Prejudice is staged at the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park on a summer night as adapted for theatre. In Bath, where two of Jane Austen's other novels Northanger Abbey and Persuasion are set, the Theatre Royal commissioned Simon Reade to write the adaptation for stage.

The problem for me lies in the adaptation when you know the novel as well as I do, from reading and re-reading it, from several long BBC/ITV serialisations and full length films. So, when Mrs Bennett (Rebecca Lacey) tells her daughter Mary to allow the other ladies time to exhibit, there are two issues here. One is the atrocious singing and playing of Mary Bennett rather than her being poor and occasionally off key; noone would have stayed in the room where she was singing and she is a laughing stock. The other issue I have is that it is Mr Bennet who intervenes in the novel not his pushy wife.

The star of this production is Ed Birch's brilliantly comic performance as the curate who will inherit the Bennett home Longbourn because the property is entailed on the male heirs and the Bennetts have only daughters. Before Mr Collins enters to view his likely inheritance, he tries to lean on a table that is being moved. With his spindly long shanks and excessive bowing and flourishing he is a figure of fun.

Eliza Bennett (Jennifer Kirby) is an attractive and witty girl and Mr Darcy (David Oakes) a fitting aristocrat, except that he really should wear cream breeches rather than vicar's black. Jane Bennett (Yolanda Kettle) is very pretty and elegant and Mr Bingley (Rob Heaps) bounces in like an affectionate spaniel.

Economy loses some of the characters, Mr Gardiner, the Hursts and Mrs Reynolds, the housekeeper of Pemberley curiously has a sex change but actors from the drama school E15 make up the numbers in walk on and dancing roles. At the rear of the stage, a group of actors, not in the scene, will stand or sit like a Gainsborough portrait and, very effectively at Pemberley the art gallery is assembled under the metal arches with each occupant posing as if in a Regency portrait.

Act Two has many words that are not Austen's own but they are not out of spirit with what she might have thought. Jane Asher strikes a fine figure as Lady Catherine de Bourgh and is too kindly in her first scene, rather than the arrogant and proud lady, but in her second scene at Longbourn she improves. I take issue with her daughter Anne (Leah Brotherhead) being as poorly as she is portrayed. Yes Miss De Bourgh was sickly but not an imbecile as any marriage to Darcy would be unthinkable by all.

Lydia Bennett (Eleanor Thorn) is so small she could be 15 and of course married she is despicable, crowing to her sisters and offering to "get them husbands" that we actually feel Wickham (Barnaby Sax) has his just desserts. Rebecca Lacey screeches a lot as Mrs Bennet and Timothy Walker does well as her long suffering husband and too lenient a parent.

The problem is when staging essentially in one place, the change of feelings that Elizabeth has are too rapid. She moves from despising Darcy to falling for him on the information from him about Wickham eloping with Georgiana without the evidence of Colonel Fitzwilliam and the transformation feels superficial so the "prejudice" is too quickly cast off.

It is a pretty evening in the park for this adaptation of Jane Austen, the balls are finely staged and I loved the tall candelabra but don't see this instead of reading the novel.

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Pride and Prejudice
Written by Jane Austen
Adapted by Simon Reade
Directed by Deborah Bruce

Starring: Jane Asher, Ed Birch, Caroline Harker, Jennifer Kirby, Timothy Walker, Rebecca Lacey, David Oakes
With: Leah Brotherhead, Imogen Byron, Sophia Capasso, Olivia Darnley, Rob Heaps, Yolanda Kettle, Frances McNamee, Barnaby Sax, Eleanor Thorn, David Whitworth
Set Designed by Max Jones
Costumes designed by Tom Piper
Lighting: Tina MacHugh
Sound: Matt McKenzie
Movement: Sian Williams
Composer: Lillian Henley
Running time: Two hours 45 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 0844 826 4242
Booking to 20th July 2013
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 25th June 2013 at the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park, London NW1 4PX (Tube: Baker Street)

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