It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a person in possession of a soft spot for Mr Darcy, must be in want of a live version of Pride and Prejudice…
As Jane Austen’s bicentenary approaches, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre pays homage to one of the literary greats, with an authentically, classic production of just that book. Few novels boast as many unappealingly flawed characters, which are yet so universally liked, but the cast navigate this anomaly with ease, tempering their myriad flaws with a redeeming lovability difficult to deny. A combination of masterly acting and on point, comedic timing is largely responsible for translating this likability from story to stage, as well as a script true to the book.
In Simon Reade’s adaptation, and under Deborah Bruce’s direction, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre have done little more than breathe visual life into the pages of Austen. Were it a lesser known story, such a production would be outstanding. As it is, the performance is comforting in its familiarity but fails to truly excite; it takes no risks and pushing no boundaries. It is all cautious sentimentality and therefore lacks the edge or sense of adventure which could have exalted this production to the next level.
There are moments of inspired staging; one particular scene, in which some of the characters transform themselves into portraits, through a mixture of immobility and cleverly positioned lighting, creates a beautiful aesthetic, before flowing into the next scene as Mr Darcy’s likeness springs to life in suitable comedic fashion. A great shame however, is the misuse of Wales Millennium’s Centre’s expansive stage; a large rotating, semi-circular set, centrally placed, renders much of the space wasted. More too, could have been made of the musical accompaniment, which was at most pleasant but nondescript.
The real substance of this production lay firmly in the outstanding performances of the cast, with the comedic characters shining brightest. Steven Meo’s farcical Mr Collins, Felicity Montagu’s neurotic Mrs Bennet, Matthew Kelly’s dryly sarcastic Mr Bennet and Doña Croll’s grandiose Lady Catherine De Bourgh all dazzle amongst the solid ensemble, any of whom with a single look or gesture, convey the equivalent of ten lines of script. The only downfall in the cast’s performance is their projection turns often to shouting – no doubt a consequence of their heritage of performing as part of an open air theatre. A volume which likely works perfectly on an outside stage jars within the impressive acoustics of WMC’s Donald Gordon Theatre.
Pride and Prejudice at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff