“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” Yes, as the novel opens, so does the play and therefore so must this review, as an opportunity to quote probably one of the best opening literary lines cannot be missed – and it’s an observation as true now as it was when first published 205 years ago. The question on everyone’s lips is, of course, does this iconic novel translate into a piece of theatre? The answer is a most definitive yes. As it has taken on various incarnations on screen in recent years, its transformation to the stage was perhaps inevitable. For diehard Austen fans, of which the majority of the audience obviously were, this was yet another opportunity to enjoy the reanimation of her much loved characters and cleverly constructed story.
The cast was a strong combination of established and emerging talent. Matthew Kelly tops the bill as the loveable Mr Bennet, but Jessica d’Arcy as Elizabeth took centre stage; exceptional plaudits for her as not only was this her professional debut, but also as the understudy, taking on the lead role at short notice on the opening night in Woking. Kirsty Rider, also making her professional debut, delivered a convincing performance as the elegant yet conniving Miss Caroline Bingley. The inimitable Mrs Bennet was superbly played by Felicity Montagu, a veteran performer of stage, TV and film.
I found the set slightly disappointing however, failing to convey the grandeur and elegance of Austin’s original settings. The revolving stage and metallic structure attempted to add fluidity, dimension and movement to scene changes, yet the effect made me slightly dizzy and concerned that the actors might miss their step. But happily they didn’t. The focus was certainly on the dialogue, which stayed largely faithful to the original text. Austen’s wit, irony and social observations were not ignored, and combined with movement produced a mildly comedic effect throughout.
This stage version pays suitable and deserved homage to Jane Austen’s genius. The audience were delighted by the performance and left with smiles on their faces, truly appreciating the universality and timelessness of the dialogue and themes. A heart-warming experience.
[Amanda Briggs 26 October 2016]
Pride and Prejudice is playing at the New Victoria theatre in Woking from Tuesday 25-Saturday 29 October