It is a universally acknowledged truth that anyone in possession of a ticket to see Pride and Prejudice will have high expectations of the show. In fact, whilst waiting for the show to begin, discernible snatches of ‘the BBC series was so good though’ and ‘what about that Keira Knightley version?’ could be heard floating around the stalls of Norwich Theatre Royal. However, their expectations were immediately met by the opening line delivered by an appropriately gushing Mrs Bennet: ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.’ In fact Felicity Montagu delivered a glorious Mrs Bennet throughout the play, even resorting to climbing halfway up the set at one point to nag her constantly suffering husband.
Matthew Kelly’s dry portrayal of Mr Bennet coupled wonderfully with her character, indeed the pair received the loudest applause at the end of the performance. The other comedic star of the show had to be Mr Collins, flourishing his handkerchief in the face of anyone of importance and using the same violent handkerchief gesticulations to profess his love for Elizabeth. In fact, Simon Reade‘s adaptation went as far as to make Mr Collins enter a chase around the dinner table with poor old Lizzy, culminating in her using a chair to defend herself from his advances.
The play was winningly comical, a refreshing take on what many would stereotypically (and wrongly) perceive to be a dry and fusty work. It brings out all of Austen’s comedy in ingenious ways, from Mr Collins accidentally becoming the slapstick buffer between Darcy and Wickham’s face-off, to Mrs Bennet artfully slapping poor Mary to get her to stop her abysmal singing. The comedy was carefully sprinkled throughout, and though sometimes a little cheesy, was well received by everyone watching.
The set design was certainly one of the highlights of the play, a revolving façade that took two days to install into the theatre. The characters weaved in and out of it between scenes, dinner party talks were viewed at all angles and the scenes blended beautifully together. Another wonderful feature was the piano music that tied the whole affair in a neat regency package. Henley’s music provided the soft, old-world touch to the play, from each young lady’s accomplished performance to the music at one of the many balls.
Despite a few mutterings after the show on the lack of wet shirt-clad Colin Firths onstage, there didn’t seem to be a single negative opinion about the play. I personally had a great time, and have no doubt that the play will be incredibly successful in its tour around England in the coming months.
Pride and Prejudice will be running at Norwich Theatre Royal from 27th September-1st October.