BWW Reviews: PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, Open Air Theatre, June 25 2013
It's always a treat to go to the Open Air Theatre, particularly on a warm, fine summer evening. In this case, although we may not have got Mr Darcy in a wet shirt, the full house were given Simon Reade's take on Pride and Prejudice.
There's a question-mark over the point of reviving or adapting something that's been done as many times as Austen's classic. Reade presents Pride and Prejudice as a farce; he explains in the programme notes that he sees it partly as a Restoration comedy, one of those glorious trouser-dropping precursors to the modern-day Carry On films.
And so while the play certainly gets the laughs - Rebecca Lacey is marvellously over-the-top as Mrs Bennet, fretting about how to get her daughters married off - it loses much of Austen's bite and subtlety.
The broadness of characterisation and the paring-down of the plot mean that we get a Darcy (David Oakes) taciturn in the background, pacing up and down like a security guard, without ever having chance to explore his personality; and a Lizzy (Jennifer Kirby) who is vivacious and sisterly but never seems to have much interest in the menfolk - her sudden profession of feeling for the cad Wickham is out of the blue. It's a shame - both actors playing the duelling lovers offer glimpses of much potential, but have little chance to develop much chemistry.
Rob Heaps plays Mr Bingley nicely as a none-too-bright, good-hearted creature, making his reliance on his old friend Darcy much more understandable; and Ed Birch, the grotesque Mr Collins, is delicious as the pompous young parson.
As the play draws to a close, the moral of the tale on the importance of picking an appropriate life partner is reinforced (over and over again); and Mrs Bennet gets the last word by repeating her ever-so-famous, ever-so-cliched opening line once more - "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."
The fact that this scathing line twice comes from a woman who's been shown throughout to be silly, feather-headed and ridiculous - rather than from an arch observant narrator - shows that this is a crowd-pleasing Pride and Prejudice, with all the famous lines included, but perhaps not one that Austen devotees might recognise as a faithful interpretation.