Last night, I was invited to the press night for Pride and Prejudice at the Marlowe Theatre. Originally a Regent’s Park open air theatre play, the show has three weeks left of its tour, playing another four days in Canterbury, before moving on to Liverpool, Newcastle and Cardiff. Tickets are available here for The Marlowe Theatre and here for the other venues and dates.
As a 30 year old woman, who grew up reading the book, watching every screen adaptation of this reputable Jane Austen novel, and dreaming of meeting my own Mr Darcy, I knew I’d enjoy watching this stage version.
What I hadn’t bargained on, was just how much I’d enjoy it.
Upon entering the grand auditorium of the Marlowe Theatre, the audience were met with a large structure on the stage.
From the very first scene, we were enlightened to what the structure was; a rotating scene changing creation, that enabled different scenes of the play to be altered without having to change an entire stage of props.
Cast members regularly stayed in the background, changing the few props at the back half of the stage, while main cast members kept the audience captivated with their clear and precise dialogue.
Acoustically, this dialogue is obviously helped by the Marlowe’s beautiful auditorium, but the cast themselves played a massive part in getting the audience to absorb the recitation of this well known story.
Moving on to the cast, the focus is immediately on Mrs Bennet, played by the always resplendent Felicity Montagu. Felicity brings out every ounce of drama and self absorbed hilarity, Mrs Bennett radiates.
Her relationship with poor Mr Bennet, played by TV legend Matthew Kelly, is acted perfectly; their tumultuous marriage, and his tolerance and desperation of her dramatics are constantly evident. Felicity and Matthew, have a near perfect comedic timing, making the audience question whether there are two better people to work alongside each other in these two roles.
Their daughters, Mary, Jane, Kitty, Lydia, and Elizabeth, played by Leigh Quinn, Hollie Edwin, Anna Crichlow, Mari Izzard and Tafline Steen, play their individual characters with ease.
Mary and Kitty, even with their smaller roles, still have great humorous lines (and looks) throughout, and the wild child Lydia, easily shocked the audience, with her sudden change of character when she married the equally wild Mr Wickham, played by Daniel Abbott.
Daniel plays the role of Mr Wickham in the charming way the character is portrayed in the original text. A charm that Mr Darcy definitely doesn’t have.
It is no wonder In that case, why we saw Jane initially assume she had stronger feelings for Mr Wickham.
Jane and Elizabeth are the closest of the sisters-both living for each others happiness, and their devotion to one another is a constant throughout the play.
When Jane finally becomes betrothed to Mr Bingley, the gracious contentment Elizabeth has for her sisters good fortune is played out beautifully, and, throughout the play, Mr Bingley, played by Jordan Mifsud, becomes a firm favourite with the audience.
His alternative methods of thought, and the excitement he has during every task he undertakes makes him effortlessly endearing.
Tafline, who plays Elizabeth could not be more perfect for her role. Her quick wit, dry humour, sarcasm and relationship with her family, mirror my own, and, although I cannot hope to have the pure English-rose beauty Tafline possesses, her portrayal of this head strong confident character, is enough to make any independent young lady, look to her as their heroine.
Her strong relationship with her family, does not mirror the initial meeting with Mr Darcy, and their affiliation with one another is constantly turbulent and heated.
Ben who plays Mr Darcy, towers above his cast members, and, with his stern, brooding features, he plays the character with ease and poignancy.
The moment the audience had been waiting for showed us a new side to both characters. Mr Darcy softened and allowed his love to rule over his terseness, closely followed by Elizabeth admitting to her own feelings, following the kiss, both of which had the audience gasping and cooing over the romance and beauty of the scene.
Of course, Elizabeth could have had a very different life, had she chosen the interestingly eccentric Mr Collins.
Played by Steven Meo, a massive compliment has to go out to his portrayal of, let’s face it, a complete sleazeball!
For an actor to have the ability to not only make an audience cringe at the dialogue and mannerisms a character has, but to also have an excitement surround them every time they come onto the stage, is a massive talent to have-and his relationship with the unfortunate Charlotte Lucas, played by Francesca Bailey, showed us the awkwardness surrounding a relationship with this man.
Additionally to the above cast members and their incredible acting throughout, a special nod has to go to Kirsty Rider who plays the incredibly desperate Caroline Bingley.
Her affections for Mr Darcy, and her distaste for the Bennett family, are genuinely hilarious. Even her facial expressions during scenes where she had no dialogue had the audience in hysterics.
It was also a thrill to see Dona Crook As Lady Catherine De Bourgh, and Charlotte Palmer as Mrs Gardiner.
Lady Catherine’s stuck up, displeasure towards Elizabeth made her the villain of the play-something Dona revelled in at the end, when she came on to the curtain call jeering the crowd into booing her.
Mrs Gardiner, although the sister of Mrs Bennet, thankfully was anything like her sibling. Although she is supportive of her sisters self made stresses, she couldn’t be more different in personality.
A sweet lady, who adores her nieces, we can label her the wannabe Cilla Black of Jane Austen novels, in her attempt to make Elizabeth realise her feelings for Mr Darcy, when they visited Pemberley together.
Ending the show was a perfect letter scene, where the characters shared their good fortune with other members of their family.
The movement from the many members of cast, was once again, fluid and faultless, as it had been throughout.
Lights descended from above the stage, the actors took their places for the curtain call, and they were met with an incredible reception of applause (and lots of whooping).
In conclusion, this is one of the best plays I’ve ever seen, and the amazing evening was made complete, when I got to catch up with some of the cast after the show, who were all genuinely lovely.