Pride and Prejudice
Written by Jane Austen, adapted by James Maxwell, revised by Alan Stanford
Directed by Susan Ferley
Performed by Susanna Fournier, Brad Hodder et al.
Grand Theatre, London
March 10 to April 3, 2010
Reviewed by Mary Alderson
Pride and Prejudice – A Romantic Comedy?
When Artistic Director Susan Ferley welcomed the audience to the opening night of Pride and Prejudice at the Grand, she told everyone to “Enjoy this romantic comedy.” That is probably the most amazing thing about Pride and Prejudice – it is a 200-year-old romantic comedy not unlike the light fare in our movie theatres today. Think of Bridget Jones’ Diary – it’s the 21st century version of Pride and Prejudice. While Bridget relates her thoughts in her journal, here was have Elizabeth Bennet narrating the story.
Jane Austen’s plot has withstood the proverbial time test, and remains entertaining today. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet have five daughters and it is Mrs. Bennet’s duty as a mother to get all five girls married off. So imagine their delight when a wealthy, single young man moves in next door and brings along his rich friend. The comedy results in the many twists and turns it takes to get the two oldest daughters, Jane and Elizabeth, suitably matched. The youngest daughter is also married off, although less suitably.
Susanna Fournier tells the tale as Elizabeth Bennet, and delivers her humourous observations well. Her face and voice are vivacious, but her posture and gestures seem uncomfortable. Perhaps it is an attempt to mirror Mr. Darcy’s awkwardness but it seems strange to keep it up when he’s not around. Brad Hodder as Mr. Darcy is appropriately stiff and awkward. Darcy translates the words pride and prejudice as arrogant and judgemental. Hodder portrays Darcy as so disagreeable, that when we learn of his redeeming qualities they don’t seem believable.
Burgandy Code plays an over-the-top Mrs. Bennet, squealing loudly with laughter whenever she’s excited. Code gets the audience laughing at Mrs. Bennet’s silliness. It’s a far cry from the heart wrenching character Marketa (Hana’s mother) she played in the Grand’s production of Hana’s Suitcase two years ago. Code is certainly versatile.
David Warburton as Mr. Bennet has excellent comedic timing, and delivers his lines perfectly. Mrs. Bennet frequently worries about the fact that she and her daughters will be forced out of the family home when he dies, as it will go to a cousin who is the male heir. Finally Bennet tells Mrs. Bennet, “I may live longer than you!” to the delight of the audience.
Alden Adair plays the annoying and obsequious Mr. Collins very well. He toadies to Lady Catherine De Bourgh creating comedy in a style reminiscent of Broadway actor John Lithgow. His refusal to accept Elizabeth’s refusal of his proposal is hilarious.
Michelle Fisk is excellent as the haughty and snobby Lady Catherine, and garners laughs as she describes all the wonderful things her homely and boring daughter Anne would do “if only her health permitted.” Erin Polatynski is good as both Anne and the equally as boring sister Mary, who embarrasses everyone with her terrible singing. Perrie Oltheuis as Jane and Morgan Jones as Mr. Bingley are both enchanting as the happy young couple.
It’s good to see London actor Jim Doucette at the Grand again. He plays the dual roles of Lucas and Uncle Gardiner well. Two High School Project alumnae also appear. Claire Burns plays a very hoity-toity Miss Bingley. She is sometimes difficult to understand, speaking in a low voice and struggling with the British accent. Carolyn Hall as Kitty is a good partner to the high-spirited Lydia, played well by Laura Schutt. Brendan Rowland is a charming Mr. Wickham, even when he turns out to be a cad, and Courtney Stevens is a charismatic Fitzwilliam. Marilla Wex is good as Charlotte who has to settle for the first proposal that comes her way. Completing the cast are Martha Zimmerman in triple roles and Michael Iliadis as Denney.
The set is well created, minimal, but easily recognizable as it changes from parlour to garden. The characters carry chairs on and off quickly as the show moves smoothly from scene to scene.
The costumes are lovely, with all five daughters wearing delicate creamy gowns, appropriate for the era. But unfortunately there are no costume changes – even poor families changed their dress from what they wore at home to something fancy for a party.
So while everything seems to be in place for a romantic comedy, it is the romance that is lacking. Elizabeth is a strong young woman, even rebellious for her time. She is not going to settle to get a husband; she will hold out for love. And while she tells us that she is falling for Mr. Darcy, and he has said he is attracted to her, we don’t see it. Yes, these are very formal times, but still, if two people profess love for each other, shouldn’t we see a spark? Some chemistry? Even a smile? We saw it with Jane and Bingley, so shouldn’t there have been a moment with Elizabeth and Darcy?
While true Jane Austen fans will enjoy this show for its delightful wit, a little more romance with the comedy would be preferable.
Pride and Prejudice continues at the Grand Theatre in London until April 3. Tickets are available at the Grand box office at 519-672-8800 or 1-800-265-1593, or visit www.grandtheatre.com.