Peter Kenvyn Jones’ adaptation of Jane Austen’s 200 year old novel, Pride and Prejudice, stays very true to the comedy and romance of the original piece. The Oxford Theatre Guild also do justice to the story of the Bennet family, and this outdoor production, nestled in the grounds of the Trinity College Gardens, will certainly satisfy fans and will also inspire newcomers to read the novel itself.
Snuggled in an array of different coloured blankets, the audience sit around the stage as the nineteenth century Hertfordshire countryside is brought to life and we home in on the goings on of the Bennet family. While Mrs Bennet hysterically flits from one daughter to another in attempt to find each a husband, Mr Bennet sits back in exasperation while injecting dry humour in between the shrill outbursts from his wife. Jane, Elizabeth, Mary, Kitty, and Lydia are the five sisters all with different personalities and yet all brought up to believe their main goal in life is to find a wealthy partner. While Kitty and Lydia giggle and flirt their way through their teenage years, Mary would much prefer a book to a husband, Jane remains the calming influence on the family, and Elizabeth is the most headstrong and independent of them all. When the neighbouring Netherfield Park is let to Mr Bingley, his sister Caroline, and their friend Mr Darcy, the Bennets are thrown headfirst into a world of balls, dancing, romance, misunderstandings, and unexpected marriage proposals.
This well rounded cast have remained very loyal to the characters they are portraying. Sarah Pyper as Mary Bennet and Colin Burnie as Mr Bennet are particularly comical; Pyper’s characterisation is especially larger than life and she never fails to evoke loud laughter with her delivery of overly intellectual explanations for the different scenarios she finds herself in. Laurence Goodwin and Adam Potterton are strong leads as Elizabeth and Mr Darcy; the underlying chemistry is noticeable during all of their interactions and even when they are merely on stage at the same time, pretending not to be paying any attention to the other.
While the garden setting itself is a wonderfully immersive idea for such a play, it brings with it some sound difficulties; the conversation between Darcy and Elizabeth during the dancing scene was completely lost and inaudible to those seated stage right. Sitting in the seats at the sides also means that characters’ backs are towards you quite a few times, so I would recommend getting to the venue early to sit in the central block if you can.
Hair and costumes are very authentic, although some of the outfits could do with a bit of TLC and straightening out, but this is only really noticeable to those very close to the stage. The set is also very creative with the enlarged pages from the book in the background, and the cast members are very efficient when it comes to the scene changes.
This is a very enjoyable production in general, and is also fairly easy to follow for younger audience members and those who have not yet encountered this beloved story. Pride and Prejudice is a timeless classic that already has many rejuvenated adaptations to its name that are just as appreciated; this one is no exception.