Review: Pride and Prejudice at Nottingham Playhouse

Sara Pascoe’s stage adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice at Nottingham Playhouse is very funny indeed. Period. Well not quite – it is so much more than a very witty Georgian period comedy/drama and captivatingly so.

Firstly, let us be clear that any open minded Jane Austen fans will not be disappointed, as the story of the Bennet family, in this version of Pride and Prejudice, is very much key to the play. Where it becomes extra interesting is in writer Pascoe and director Susannah Tresilian’s partial deconstruction of the story and themes. This method simultaneously creates an additional modern day examination of the female plights of the Bennet daughters and of Austen herself.

Sara Pascoe’s Pride and Prejudice is both reverent to the book and relevant to our contemporary sense and sensibilities. Austen-tatious it is not, and Emmy The Great’s original songs and score are well, truly great, and they enhance the piece extra-ordinarily well. As many play and film versions of Pride and Prejudice have been written and directed by men it is timely that these fine ladies, Pascoe, EMG and Tresilian have now chosen to put across the female perspective on one of Jane Austen’s much loved novels.

In the story, the need for a rich husband is not one of economical greed but of pure survival in the  1800s.  For, as we are told through clever dialogue and song, the five daughters cannot inherit their father’s wealth due to their gender. The girls have no independent wealth and if their father dies before their mother they may well be sent to the poorhouse or starve to death. The comical Mrs Bennet is perceived as less batty and more a truly desperate personality, albeit still outwardly very amusing on stage.

The play is beautifully dressed in the lush costumes of the early 1800s, and is set in a giant birdcage of a set. This is the work of designer Carla Goodman and the cast’s work in regularly re-dressing the set is done with great fluidity. There are many a visual joke and the humour both in and out of the 19th and 21st Century is ironical and sometimes pastiche led and is very much appreciated by the Nottingham Playhouse audience tonight, as are the insights.

Bethan Mary-James gives us a finely drawn Elizabeth Bennet/teacher Elizabeth, initially cold towards Mr Darcy and straightforwardly strong in defence of Mr Collins’ crazy marriage proposals.

Kerry Peers commands the stage as Mrs Bennett/Modern Mrs Bennet/Lady Catherine de Bourgh/housekeeper and manages to be both terrifying as Lady Catherine and engaging as the two Mrs Bennets.

Matt Whitchurch is beautifully aloof, socially prejudiced (hence the title) and bluntly direct as Mr Darcy. Whether he gets his top off near any handy lake (stage left perhaps) you will have to see. Matthew Romain is superb as both Mr Bingley and the ridiculously over confident Mr Collins. Alex Sawyer is charm itself in his roles as Mr Whickham/Modern Wickham and the be-hatted suave Mr Gardiner. Adrian Irvine (Mr Bennet/Graham) shows both great status and modern day duplicity in his accurately done portrayals.

Rachel Partington, (Mary) Rebecca D’Souza (Jane), Alice Haig (Kitty), Olivia Onyehara (Lydia) all impart great energy and boisterous fun into the play and together, make it the utter joy it is to watch both for the comedy and the serious drama. For any envelope collectors amongst the audience the Bennet, middle sister, Mary is your person to contact. She has tons of them backstage.

Pride and Prejudice runs at Nottingham Playhouse until 30th September.

Photo credits Stephen Cummiskey.

Highly recommended

Reviewer: Phil Lowe

If you liked the play why not have a good read of the original novel by Jane Austen. Click on image below.

Animal: The Autobiography of a Female Body by Sara Pascoe. Click image to order.

Pride and Prejudice playscript: Click  image to order.

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