(adapted by Sara Pascoe, based on the novel by Jane Austen, directed by Susannah Tresilian)
When young women are told to think of romantic heroes from classic novels (or just any novel), a lot of them most likely will mention Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy – a man so prejudiced to those beneath his high-profile status, he is surprised when he falls in love with Elizabeth Bennet, the 2nd eldest of five daughters. Pride and Prejudice has been adapted many times throughout the centuries and a lot of those tending to prioritise the love story between these judgemental protagonists, which is why it is refreshing to see Pascoe’s adaptation focussing more on the class system, and how contemporary audiences tend to look past the clear social politics that is the core of the book’s conflict.
To me, this production was more of an experimentation of contemporary story-telling than an actual play. The well-loved protagonists Elizabeth (Bethan Mary-Jane) and Darcy (Matt Whitchurch) were both unlikeable yet endearing, Darcy being unbearably arrogant opposite a nonchalant Elizabeth who could not care less about appearing delicate and polite, contradictory to what society expects of her. Kerry Peers’s Mrs. Bennet is a money-obsessed caricature that bullies her husband (Adrian Irvine) for his lack of wealth, forcing the daughters to search for wealthy husbands. There are also scenes where modern-day students complain about the lack of strong, female characters, or scenes in an editing room where the editors have conflicting artistic ideas. Through these modern-day commentaries and a fresh take on characters from the original material, it is clear Pascoe has something to say about modern audiences misconstruing what Austen’s original intent of the book was. Olivia Onyehara perfectly captures the snobbish Miss Bingley, alongside an ignorantly insensitive Mr. Collins (Matthew Romain), both particularly highlighting the reason the Bennet sisters have to marry wealthy husbands so they can rise above their apparent low social status.
Carla Goodman’s overall design was vibrant, giving each character their own colour to symbolise their values and their status – like Jane’s peaceful green, Kitty’s naive and youthful yellow, Lydia’s luxurious purple etc. The set was simple and never detracted from the character dynamics in the play – apart from the flowers hanging from the ceiling when we arrived at Darcy’s house, tastefully adding a sense of lavishness to Darcy’s lifestyle without coming across as overwhelmingly frivolous.
If one has never read the original novel before, I would not be certain if you could enjoy this production to the full extent. I know many people who have may have only watched the Keira Knightley film, or watched Colin Firth coming out of a lake, but because this production is criticising these somewhat distracted adaptations it would be difficult to challenge their preconceived ideas of what Pride and Prejudice‘s values were. Whilst I felt at times there were some issues with the flow of scenes, especially going from Regency England to 2017 actors in the rehearsal room, this production definitely has me thinking as to why audiences seem to overlook Austen’s analysis of social elitism that could potentially relate to today’s society and focus more on a love story that today’s feminists would condemn. Overall, an intriguing and fun play with a lot to say, and with the design and refreshed characters to back up their striking statement.