The third year acting class opened their graduating season with an adaptation of this much beloved literary classic. Certainly, audience members around me were more than familiar with the tale of manners, upbringing and marriage in 19th century England as they whispered excitedly at certain character introductions. With so many adaptations of the famous novel for the screen both large and small, forging a unique identity for this production was always going to be a challenge. However, it certainly presented the actors with the opportunity to play such iconic characters.
The story itself doesn’t bear repeating here other than to say that the five Bennet daughters are in search of a suitable husband in an age when such things were of vital import but it’s Elizabeth’s entanglements with Mr Darcy that is the main attraction. What I particularly liked was the amount of humour throughout the play driven in large part by Mr and Mrs Bennet (Luke Fewster and Harriet Gordon-Anderson), the former bemused by the antics of his wife who is fixated on marrying off her daughters to men of good fortune.
Gordon-Anderson is a standout with an eye-catching performance as Mrs Bennet that is all fussy insistence and pointed put-downs. She has excellent projection and diction with her use of deft comic timing a highlight. Fewster employed a droller sense of delivery that was a lovely counterpoint and their work together was impressive.
Jessica Paterson was very good as Elizabeth Bennet and really worked into the role coming into her own in the second half as she inhabited the witty and clever though willful character. There was an ease and charm to her performance that was a delight. Lincoln Vickery had the unenviable task of playing the iconic Mr Darcy (yes, I heard Colin Firth’s name mentioned more than once during the afternoon) and while he gives a good account of himself the sort of presence and magnetism such a character demands will come with experience.
Other performances I really enjoyed included Seamus Quinn as the pompous Mr Collins who imbued his character with a kind of sleazy charm that had the audience cringing in the best possible way. Rebecca Gulia played Lydia Bennet with a childlike petulance and naivety that worked really well especially in the second half as she becomes the first of the daughters to unexpectedly marry, eloping with the dashing Mr Wickham (Andrew Creer).
Then there was Megan Wilding as the Lady Catherine whose confrontation with Elizabeth was a dramatic high point. As she did last year in Grapes of Wrath, Wilding plays a matriarchal figure with great force and authority that belies her stature. The rest of the cast gives good support, especially Brittany Morel, Claudia Ware and Stephanie Panozzo as the other Bennet sisters. I must also mention the accent work which was strong across the board and is clearly a featured component of the acting course.
The set featured a revolving circular platform so that scene transitions were effectively done though occasionally actors appeared to be searching for marks as they placed and re-positioned furniture to represent the various locations. The walls were covered in gold material that seemed to represent the ostentation of the time. That didn’t really work for me though the stage itself was simply though effectively appointed with a piano featured. There were four doorways leading onto the stage and at one point two were used to represent full length portraits of Darcy and Wickham as the actors stood stock still to great effect. I also liked how various letters were treated especially in the rapid sequence of correspondence at the end – while the receiver ‘read’ the letter the actor whose character wrote it would recite the words behind them.
Adapted by Simon Reade from Jane Austen’s novel and directed by Adam Mitchell, Pride and Prejudice features the 3rd year acting class of Luke Fewster, Harriet Gordon-Anderson, Brittany Morel, Jessica Paterson, Stephanie Panozzo, Rebecca Gulia, Claudia Ware, Seamus Quinn, Dacre Montgomery, Shalom Brune-Franklin, Rian Howlett, Elle Harris, Megan Wilding, Lincoln Vickery, Ben Kindon, Andrew Creer, Bevan Pfeiffer, and Hoa Xuande and is on at the Geoff Gibbs Theatre until Thursday 19 March.