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Pride and Prejudice

by on 1 February 2020

The Mother of All Rom-Coms

Pride and Prejudice

by Jane Austen, adapted by Simon Reade

The Questors at the Judi Dench Playhouse, Ealing until the 8th February

Review by Emma Byrne

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen is once again à la mode, with the film adaptation of Emma landing for Valentine’s Day, all decked in tulle and ringlets.

On the tulle and ringlets front, the Questors production of Pride and Prejudice refuses to be outdone. It has a wardrobe department of twenty under the direction of designer Carla Evans. That’s one more costumier than the nineteen-strong wardrobe department for the upcoming film. With gowns and petticoats aplenty, Pride and Prejudice doesn’t shy away from the ‘costume’ challenge of costume drama.

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In some places, the costumes themselves deserve supporting actor billing: the gown and chapeau of Lady Catherine de Bourgh deserves a spotlight of its own. Wisely, director Sukhi Kainth allows us to revel in the visual feast of the gowns and breeches, as well as the effective and impressionistic set by Bron Blake, by opening with a dance number before hitting us with Mrs Bennet’s opening line: one of the most recognised lines in the canon of English novels.

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And here is the challenge; Pride and Prejudice is such well-worn stuff that there is a danger that it can become threadbare with use. Cutting and stitching to display the material at its best is the job of the playwright and the director, and here they have done a deft job. Some things are necessarily compressed. Reade’s adaptation focuses on the will-they-won’t they pairings of the two elder sisters and gives only brief asides to the darker core of Austen’s work: the unenviable lot of women whose role was to remain in a marriageable state until a suitable match could be made.

P&P6But what Reade’s adaptation does, it does well, and the cast carry the pace beautifully. Anthony Curran plays Mr Collins with an oleaginous self-satisfaction that is both great fun to watch and utterly horrifying to imagine in one’s partner for life. Sarah Morrison’s MrsP&P5 Bennet and Robert Gordon Clark’s Mr Bennet play beautifully together. Alexandra Rose Wilson’s Jane is so sincerely lovely, and James Burgess’ Mr Bingley so sweetly affable that it is impossible not to wish to see them reconciled. This is a beautiful change of pace from some adaptations that make the two of them such simpering simpletons that the cynic in me fears for the intellect of their offspring.

P&P8And while it is unfair to pick out favourites among such a strong ensemble, Kitty Cockram’s Lizzy and Madeleine Tavare’s Mary both won my heart in different ways. Cockram’s performance is rangy, bringing a truly rounded presence to a character that could so easily become a wafer thin portrait that is simply entitled ‘Feisty!’ Meanwhile Tavare takes what really is a wafer thin portrait (here entitled ‘Nerd!’) and imbues Mary with sweetness and a crippling lack of social poise. Tavare’s comic timing and consistent character deservedly got some of the biggest laughs of the night whilst also making me ardently hope that Mary gets her happy ever after, not through matrimony but by living out her days in a library. It is a truth universally acknowledged that we all need to get lost in a good story from time to time.

Emma Byrne
January 2020

Photography by Carla Evans

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