Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice is one of the world’s best-loved novels. Since its publication in 1813, it has spawned numerous adaptations for both stage and screen. Even India’s Bollywood swapped corsets for saris and skirts for salwars in their musical version, Bride and Prejudice (which I highly recommend). With Kiera Knightley starring in the high-budget 2005 feature film and the popular 2013 stage adaptation by Simon Reade, Pride and Prejudice continues to be prominent in the global arts scene. Joannah Tincey, the writer (and co-star) of this latest adaptation, has lofty heights to reach and runs the distinct risk of being drowned in this big sea. In order to avoid just being another one, it has to be original and provide something fresh for our eyes.
This production is an ambitious endeavour and it is certainly original. Part of the success of the original novel was the complexity of the characters. Gone were the two dimensional stereotypes: Austin replaced them with three dimensional humans. Actors Joannah Tincey and Nick Underwood, themselves a married couple, have the challenge of making each of Austin’s twenty one characters identifiable and unique to the audience while telling the meandering plot. In order to do this, the actors utilise props and mannerisms unique to their character. Kitty Bennet coughs, Mr. Bennet is never seen without his pipe and Mr. Collins wears a biretta. While this does work, it takes a while to attune yourself to the subtleties: at the beginning, a procession of wealthy gents and young girls grace the stage in rapid succession so you have to keep your wits about you.
Gender roles are flexible. For example, Nick Underwood takes on the role of Kitty Bennet. Joannah Tincey plays Elizabeth Bennet until the front of her skirt gets whisked away and, lo and behold, she is transformed into the charming Mr. Bingley (wearing breeches, of course). Remarkably, at different points in the performance, both actors become Lady Catherine de Bourgh. This could very easily become a pantomime of dames and feminine princes. However, if never feels farcical. Nick Underwood does an admirable job of convincing us that he really is a giggling teenage girl. One smooth transition later, that girl is gone and instead he is pompous Mr. Darcy with a whole other persona. It’s amusing but not silly and I feel that this is a great achievement of the actors and the director, Abigail Anderson. That said, for those unfamiliar with the story, it could be confusing. Prior watching of either the 2005 film or 1995 BBC television series is recommended. Even better, read the book.
The staging is as eccentric as the performance; you might be forgiven for assuming Picasso had a hand in designing it. However, it does the job of symbolising the skewed love lives of the characters while also being functional. Unfortunately, the lighting seemed to have a mind of its own, constantly flitting between bright and dark. Likewise, the sound effects were of debatable value and did not always serve their purposes of lending atmosphere to the play; at times, they distracted from the dialogue.
The actors should be applauded for their performances. Making just one of Austin’s beloved characters your own is a challenge, let alone ten of them (ten and a half if you count the split nature of Lady Catherine de Bourgh). For the most part, they achieve this. Nevertheless, you’re never going to be able to fully identify and sympathise with them as much as you would if it were done if there was one actor per role. When Lady Catherine comes on stage, we’re supposed to feel a surge of dislike. We don’t entirely feel this because Lady Catherine is always on, perhaps masquerading as Elizabeth or Lydia instead. To some extent, this is compensated for by intermittent narration by the actors allowing us to access their thoughts. These soliloquys to allow us to form a degree of attachment to the key characters, particularly Elizabeth Bennet. Coming in at just over two hours, there are a lot of lines for these actors.
heir consistent delivery and constant changing of roles and personas demonstrated their acting prowess
For Jane Austen fans, this performance is true to the original. In fact, it may well be the most faithful adaptation given that every word spoken on stage was penned by Austin in the original novel. In this respect, Tincey is more of an arranger than a writer; this is not an “inspired by” performance, this truly is a dramatised novel. For those who enjoy being enraptured by the romance of bygone eras, this is worthwhile supplement to Downton Abbey and your DVD collection of Little Dorrit.
This adaptation does work but it requires a significant amount of imagination on the part of the audience if we wish to resonate with the compelling storyline; you cannot let your concentration slip. After stripping away the lavish costumes, grand sets, and all the other bells and whistles many have come to expect from period dramas, what are you left with? A story about people, told by people. It’s a fantastic story at that. It has been 200 years since its original telling and Pride and Prejudice still inspires creativity: this version is not “just another one”. This version fills its own niche, avoids being gimmicky, and tells us the raw story without hand-waving distraction.
I saw this performance of Pride and Prejudice at the Ashcroft Theatre (part of the Fairfield Halls complex) in Croydon. Being close to the throbbing artistic heart that is London, the Ashcroft is a proud building with a reputation for hospitality and quality. With comfortable seats, helpful staff and good acoustics, the Ashcroft is a refreshing alternative to the central London theatres that can feel overly commercial and busy. While this production of Pride and Prejudice is currently touring the UK, other productions hosted by The Ashcroft should also be worthy of your consideration.
Review by Samuel Lickiss
Pride and Prejudice
A highly praised and inventive new adaptation of one of the most loved novels of all time.
This production premiered at the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds in 2013 and delighted the sold-out audiences. Now on a full UK tour, this is your chance to catch the five Bennet sisters and the whole world of Austen brought to life by just two actors. A theatrical treat not to be missed.
Adapted by Joannah Tincey
Director – Abigail Anderson
Designer – Dora Schweitzer
Lighting Design – Simon Wilkinson
Original Sound Design – Mark Melville
Starring – Joannah Tincey and Nick Underwood