Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Pride & Prejudice - Chichester Festival Theartre

Pride and Prejudice
Writer: Jane Austen
Adaptor: Simon Reade
Music: Richard Hammerton
Director: Tony Frow
Reviewer: Ann Bawtree

This entrancing production is the result of the ambitious but wholly successful adaptation by Simon Reade of Jane Austen’s most famous novel. It was a dangerous project to bring to life on stage such a well known saga familiar not only in book form but also on screens large and small over decades. It has been entirely successful.

Toby Frow’s almost balletic direction with the choreography of Sam Spencer-Lane enchants from the start. The main characters enter to the music of a solo violin played on stage by Victoria Hamnett, Mary in the story. Jane’s original Mary played the piano but unlike Miss Hamnett, not very well.

Designer Christopher Woods, clothes the Bennet girls in subtle shades of cream with Elizabeth alone standing out in the early scenes in palest blue. Even Susan Hampshire as Mrs Bennet tones in, in shades of russet brown. And how steadily we grew to view her unsympathetically until at last we laughed heartlessly at her fit of the vapours over the elopement of silly little Lydia, (Lydia Larson). She is scarcely more likeable that her greedy sister Kitty (Leah Whitaker). Long suffering Mr Bennet (Peter Ellis) is his usual grouchy self but at last we realise the pathos of his sadly self inflicted woes.

Rarely can a set have been a source of amusement but this one, comprised only of a collection of chairs and a sofa or two, all had parts to play. The arrival of the dining room table and the transformation into a picture gallery raised well deserved rounds of delighted applause. The clever lighting, too, of Johanna Town, gives us shadow characters on the back drop.

The saintly Jane Bennet (Violet Ryder) recovers from her feverish cold in a vertical bed and two pianos are played in mime, needing careful co-ordination with the sound department of Richard Hammarton. Here again were more jokes, the clip clop of coconut shells, a bird whistle to denote an outdoor scene and the gentle fading in and out of the dance music to allow us to overhear the conversations. Frequently the audience felt included in the eavesdropping of characters upon one another.

Fleur Chandler makes a kindly, well to do Aunt Gardiner who widens Elizabeth’s horizons with travel and Elizabeth herself (Katie Lightfoot, making her professional debut) develops from spirited girl to confident young woman who knows her own mind.

Emily Wachter appears briefly as the teenage Georgina Darcy and also as the mature Charlotte Lucas. The latter is portrayed here as something of a gold digger, unlike the more traditional view of her as the victim of a society for whom the only way into proper adulthood for a plain and penniless girl was marriage, however unsatisfactory.

David Beames plays her father and also the good hearted Mr Reynolds of Mr Darcy’s household. Natalie Burt also plays two contrasting parts, the silent, shy and possibly rather backward Annabelle de Bourgh and the definitely forward, flashy Caroline Bingley. The former’s terrifying mother, Lady Catherine (Carolyn Pickles) sees herself as the local Queen of Sheba.

Other men of the cast are suitably dashing and in turn haughty, (the brooding Nicholas Taylor as Mr Darcy) charming (Alex Felton as Mr Bingley) and villainous (Leo Staar as Mr Wickham). Various handsome officers flash in and out, the only one named being Peter Stickney. That leaves the dreadful Reverend Mr Collins (Tom Mothersdale) and a bigger argument for the ordination of women it would be difficult to find.

runs until Sat 21st Nov
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