Being a fan of Jane Austen's work, I was in two minds about seeing Pride and Prejudice at the Brisbane Arts Theatre. What if they didn't do it justice? We've all seen bad community theatre and by gods, no one needs to see Austen butchered with her beautiful work strewn about the country side like Scarecrow's insides. What if Darcy wasn't dashing? What if Elizabeth Bennett was...well....un-Elizabeth-like? What if all of her wit went out the window on an Autumn breeze?
So apprehensively, I took a breath and went and saw it anyway. And my verdict? Despite one or two small elements, actually, they did a pretty good job.
I understand that this production was based on the script by Helen Jerome, so it only features three of the Bennet sisters, omitting Kitty and Mary. It is understandable, as it might have gone from a lengthy production to an epic if they had been included.
The play is bit on the extensive side (and by that I mean about 2.5 hours-ish), however in it's defence there are 2 intervals, so you can attend to the invariable attack of the munchies that presents itself between scenes. I do warn that all of that tea in the play does leave you with a bit of a craving.
The best performances were delivered by Pauline Davies in the role of the animated and exuberant Mrs Bennett, Joshua Parnell in the role of the ardent Mr Collins and Elodie Boal in the role of the youngest sibling, the petulant and impulsive, Lydia Bennett. I couldn't stop chuckling and laughing when any one of these actors was on stage and they all work beautifully together. I also thought that Chelsea Allen did a great job as the sweet and kind-hearted Jane Bennett and worked wonderfully well with the warm and sunny Mr Bingley, played exceptionally by a mesmerising Trent Sellars (watch out for this guy, I predict he'll go on to do amazing things). The casting was practically spot-on.
I'm sure all the Austen fans will want to know about Mr Darcy and Miss Eliza Bennett. You have to understand that I am quite a fan of the original text and while I understand everyone has a subjective view on what is dashing and attractive, I did find Mr Darcy was well cast. He wasn't the stand-up-and-take-notice-immediately sort of dashing, he was more the quiet-solid-and-silent type. It worked quite well and I think Wes Van Gelderen did a good job in the role.
With Eliza Bennett I did find this just a bit of a challenge. I have seen Katherine Alpert's work previously in Northanger Abbey last year with Nash Theatre and while I definately find this performance a marked improvement, I could not find myself really connecting with her all that well. I found some of her delivery and elocution a bit problematic. The accent really wasn't English so much as 50s Hollywood Actress, the speech pattern is completely different and it is noticeable. I also found her to be a bit too angry as Elizabeth Bennett. She seemed to spend a lot of this production seething and telling people off and at one point, I thought she was going to tear Mr Darcy's face off. Surely Elizabeth Bennett is not meant to physically abusive?
Her first scene with Lady Catherine was also quite jarring for me. Lady Catherine is an impressive and formidable character and I just couldn't understand why Elizabeth Bennett would be giving her catty remarks, being sarcastic and down-right rude. With the dialogue there was a lot of room to play with the words and treat them like a private joke, which is how I felt it should have been delivered. The way it came across was Lady Catherine being beneath Elizabeth Bennett when it really should have been the other way around. If I invited someone to stay at my place and they behaved that way, I would have tossed them out onto the footpath.
In the scenes where Elizabeth is meant to be warm and kind, especially around her family, I just found the performance is a bit too insincere and try as I might, I simply couldn't find any genuine human-ness in this character. It is a pity, Elizabeth Bennett is one of the best heroines in literature and has legions of women cheering her on. It is a character that needs to be played expertly and doesn't allow room for pretence. I was also at a loss as to why the character would be wearing black pencil heels when all of the other characters are wearing sensible flat or flat-ish shoes. It is a small detail but an obvious one and for someone who cares about settings, it was just one of those things that jumped out at me. It also made it hard to engage with the dramatic scenes when the heels were impaling the floorboard.
Admittedly, Eliza Bennett is one of those characters that takes a lot of hard work to really do well and I have only seen few actresses who can pull off the required amount of warmth and wit required.
A special mention must be given to the set designer/s. Wow. It is an elegant set and the design is very innovative and clever. I won't spoil it for you, but I will say this, on the night that I went, there was an audible gasp of awe from the audience when we all saw how the set was transformed from the Bennett house to Lady Catherine and Aunt Gardiner's house.
I also need to mention that some of the minor roles were outstandingly delivered. Michael Stent did an excellent job in dual roles as did Elliott Giarola, Hannah Schuurs and Anna Banszel. These are wonderfully talented actors and I cannot wait to see their next productions. Gabrielle Carbon was beautiful as Charlotte Lucas and I found the jokes in the play about Charlotte being plain and unattractive worked with a wonderful sense of irony, as this Charlotte Lucas is quite striking.
All in all, director Sandra Harman has done a magnificent job with this production and the cast and crew should be very proud of themselves for managing to pull this off with finesse. It's a good production and not an easy one to do, so I'm impressed that it works very well. My recommendation is to definitely go and see this if you get the chance, it is well worth the night out and the work and dedication that must have been poured into this piece is evident.
4 stars out of 5.
Brisbane Arts Theatre will also be holding a High Tea on Sunday March 22 2014 just before the show. Bookings to be made either online or by phoning Brisbane Arts Theatre.
Excellent review; I like how you deconstructed each element, from the story to the actors. It is a shame about the actress playing Elizabeth Bennett. If there is one thing I can't bare about adaptations, it is when a character does not come across the way I imagined them in the book; it is especially irritating when their accent does not fit the setting.