Pride and Prejudice

Wed 6th – Sat 9th June 2012

reviews

Rachel Hutchings

at 23:57 on 6th Jun 2012

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Staging a ninety-minute production of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ was always going to be a difficult task. The task seemed even more mammoth, when approached by a relatively inexperienced cast and crew in the Oxford theatre scene, and in the somewhat difficult location of the Christ Church Cathedral gardens, with its dive-bombing, screechy birds and inopportune bell ringing. It was therefore going to be incredibly impressive if this ensemble managed to pull it off, in a way that was sincere yet amusing, and worked for the space it had. Unfortunately, this performance did not deliver. With a poor script, the acting quality was going to have to be immense to outweigh its rigidity, and it was a shame that on the whole this did not happen, leaving the best thing about the production being Jane and Elizabeth’s lovely dresses.

Many of the faults of this production were down to an unaccomplished script, and a desire to cram too much into too short a time. The scenes were too quick - one second Lydia and Wickham had eloped and the next they were married. Also, a rather cringing scene where Elizabeth was at Pemberley, which advanced what is a good few pages of the novel with a couple of sentences forced into a letter that she is writing to Jane, felt forced, rushed, and artificial. Perhaps it was partly due to this feeling created by the whole play, or the insincerity of the script, that meant that all of the relationships were flat and unbelievable. This was true even of David Shields and Francesca John’s Darcy and Elizabeth, whose courtship seemed to take place in about thirty seconds, with Darcy not even seeming to alter his character at all from the time of his first introduction to Elizabeth, to the time at Pemberley when he supposedly becomes a gentleman. Elizabeth, instead of being independent, steadfast and a role model for her sisters and other young women, came across more as a stubborn and obnoxious ‘little madam’- her relationships with both Jane and Charlotte Lucas, were like girls in a playground, who were venomously manipulating the little boys with snide chat and pranks- rather than adult, comforting friendships. Jane and Elizabeth’s sisterly bond unfortunately provided no contrast with that of Kitty and Lydia, who are supposedly the more immature of the siblings. Freddie Bowerman deserves some praise for managing to perform the roles of both Mr Bingley and Mr Wickham; the majority of his performances were distinguishable between the two characters, and his Bingley was light hearted and likeable. It was such a shame that this dual-personality charade was ruined when he referred to his ‘dear Jane’ whilst in a scene as Wickham…

Salvation for the play came in the form of Stephen Hyde’s Mr Collins, whose mannerisms, speech and acting were definitely the standout performance of the night. Despite being quite over the top, he managed to take on the persona of Mr Collins and actually create a character, which whilst providing the only successful comic relief in the show, also managed to produce accomplished satire- unlike unfortunately Katie Ebner-Landy as Mrs Bennett, whose over-acting was at times irritating and uncomfortable. Clearly Mrs Bennett is meant to be an overbearing busybody, but at heart she is looking out for her family, and this Mrs Bennett seemed merely there to cause trouble and infuriate her husband.

The cast and crew should be commended for merely attempting to stage such an ambitious play- in my opinion, even Hollywood didn’t manage to pull it off- for a story that demands so much of its characters, to show the passage of time and emotional education they go through, and the social satire and structure of the regency era that they rely on to communicate such a fast-paced narrative, condensing it into a short play. This particular production of it, unfortunately, just did not work.

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Lucy Wood

at 08:28 on 7th Jun 2012

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Given the amount of period dramas and re-workings of classic novels and stories within the past few years, this most recent production of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ seemed in danger of being just another play in a long-running trend. Thanks, however, to some very savvy casting, some completely wonderful comic performances and careful attention to detail, this was decidedly not the case.

Following the classic story of Elizabeth Bennett (Francesca Johns) and Mr Darcy (David Shields), the show really tried to push the comic and satirical section of Austen’s work, a factor often forgotten amid regency dresses and unnecessary period pieces.

The setting in Christ Church’s gardens was particularly effective, providing an utterly beautiful setting and an inkling of the luxury to which these people might have been accustomed, whilst the string quartet added that sense of chamber music, reminding the audience of the parlour politics which were so important in Austen’s day. The intimacy of this setting worked very well to emphasise the close-knit and family orientated nature of the play, in turn highlighting the comedy of the exchanges between the brilliantly long-suffering Mr Bennett (Patrick Edmond) and Mrs Bennett. Whilst all of the cast were very well chosen and played their respective parts well, particular praise is due to Freddie Bowerman, who captured both the foppish innocence of Bingley and the darker and more enticing side of Wickham. However, above all others, Stephen Hyde’s Mr Collins was utterly show- stealing. It was almost hard not to feel sorry for anyone cast against him and his astonishing comic timing in any particular scene, so closely was the audience hanging on his every word. The use of cast members on more than one occasion was particularly interesting: the doubling up of Bingley and Wickham, of Mr Bennett and Colonel Fitzwilliam and Mrs Bennett and Lady Catherine De Bough, even if was purely judged by who was available when, was particularly thought provoking and added an interesting dimension to the play.

Overall the play was very successful and, from the audience’s reactions, very popular. Perhaps the only real pity was that there were still some empty seats.

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