“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife”.
So wrote Jane Austen 200 years ago. Not much has changed. There are still gold diggers out there looking for the right match – or at least the right divorce settlement.
Pride and Prejudice is one of our favourite books and inspired author, Helen Fielding, to use its taciturn and repressed romantic hero as an object of desire in her Bridget Jones books/movies. Fielding’s love for Mr Darcy is almost as powerful as Bridget’s and we empathise.
Benjamin Dilloway, is handsome in a moody, unattainable way, as Darcy, in the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre production of Pride and Prejudice which launched its national tour at the Churchill Theatre, Bromley last night.
I’m pretty sure that there will be a few swooning ladies affected by the sight of this Mr Darcy, resplendent in his frock coat, tight riding breeches and polished leather boots. As fantasies go, he’s right up there.
OAT scored a huge hit with the Simon Reade’s adaptation in 2013 and reprised it this summer before seeing it off on tour (with a break for the Christmas period while its star, Matthew Kelly, no doubt fulfils panto obligations).
I suspect that the nation’s collective breasts will once again be heaving for Darcy, sighing at Lizzy Bennet’s obstinance and secretly lusting for incorrigible bad boy, Mr Wickham. It is as inevitable as one of Mrs Bennet’s attack of the vapours.
Dilloway does the business – which isn’t that hard. Darcy does a lot of standing around, glowering, initially being rather offensive to the petite and headstrong Miss Elizabeth Bennet, and generally behaving like a pompous ass.
Of course we all know that this defence mechanism will come completely undone when he realises just how much he admires Lizzy’s independence, forthright and opinionated views, and spirit. Who could resist?
Tafline Steen delivers an impeccable performance as the object of his reluctant desire. Lizzy is way ahead of her time and, undoubtedly modelled on Austen herself. Refusing to be a man’s chattel, to be signed away to the highest bidder, she puts her dainty little foot down to hold out for Mr Right. Or, in her case, Mr Darcy.
Life for 18th century women was thankless. Their only hope was a “good match” with someone of wealth or standing. The Bennets’ problem is that they only managed to produce girls – five of them – and when Mr Bennet dies, his estate will go to a distant cousin leaving his wife and family with nothing.
There’s a desperation in the story, perfectly captured by Reade, as the entire female population hunts out rich men. It’s a situation which provides the play with a fair amount of humour.
Matthew Kelly’s wonderfully benign and affectionate turn as the hen-pecked Mr Bennet will be familiar to husbands everywhere. He tries to keep his head down and avoid confrontation but there are times when his nagging, histrionic wife (deliciously played by Felicity Montagu) catches up with him and demands action.
Kelly’s timing as a comic is superb and frequently resorts to a resigned and defeated look towards the audience to get them chuckling.
Pride and Prejudice is romance personified from the moment it opens with the women in flowing empire-line gowns and bonnets, dashing army officers in their striking scarlet uniforms, and the civilian men sporting frock coats. How can anyone resist?
Darcy and Lizzy’s first meeting, at a ball, doesn’t go down too well. He thinks she’s rather plain and lacking in accomplishments. Slowly but surely she deflates his pride and ego, chips away at his reservation and shyness, and makes inroads into his heart.
It is all achieved with grace and eloquence befitting a Georgian love story that is steeped in custom and manners.
Elsewhere in the family Jane Bennet (Hollie Edwin) struggles to land herself the wealthy Mr Bingley (Jordan Mifsud) and the flighty Lydia (Mari Izzard) sets her cap at snaring Daniel Abbott’s scheming Wickham. Poor, plain Mary Bennet (Leigh Quinn) seems a lost cause while sister Kitty fares no better.
There’s excellent support from Doña Croll as the intimidating, plotting, Lady Catherine and Steven Meo as Mr Collins, the comedy clergyman in line to inherit.
This is a classy production, led by the experienced and flawless Kelly and Montagu. Their conversations over the future of their girls are priceless and reveal, if nothing else, that parenting has changed little over two centuries.
Entrancing, splendidly acted, and wonderfully entertaining. A literary classic and an unmissable theatrical delight.
2016/17 Tour Dates
Until Saturday, Churchill Theatre, BROMLEY September 27-October 1, Theatre Royal, NORWICH October 4-8, Corn Exchange, CAMBRIDGE October 11-15, The Lowry, SALFORD October 18-22, Leicester Curve theatre October 25-29, New Victoria Theatre, WOKING November 1-5, Hall for Cornwall, TRURO November 8-12, Birmingham Rep November 15-19, Richmond Theatre
January 17-21, Theatre Royal, BATH January 24-28, Wycombe Swan January 31-February 4, The Marlowe Theatre, CANTERBURY February 14-18, Theatre Royal, NEWCASTLE February 21-25, Wales Millennium Centre, CARDIFF.
Pride and Prejudice
OAT’s Pride and Prejudice is entrancing, splendidly acted, and wonderfully entertaining. A literary classic and an unmissable theatrical delight.