|Photo from the Open Air Theatre Website|
It is a truth universally acknowledged that I am a total Austen fangirl. I’ve read all of the Austen books, seen most of the movies, and find Jane simply one of the most fascinating writers. I’m always amazed that I somehow managed to go through school and an English degree without encountering her (did a metric tonne of Dickens and Shakey-babes though, so there’s that), but I’m so glad that in my twenties I picked up Pride and Prejudice and embraced the Austen joy.
Of all Jane’s works, my favourite switches between the big three – Sense and Sensibility, Emma, and Pride and Prejudice, and whenever there’s a new production, film or spin off I am eager to see or read it. When I spotted that the delighted Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park was putting on a production of Pride and Prejudice, therefore, I quickly bought tickets, and on Monday I saw the show.
I’ve written before about the Open Air Theatre and how much I enjoy productions there. The openness of the theatre and the necessary spartanness of the stage (you can’t fly things in when there are no flies above from which to do so!) lends itself to intimate, innovative productions. Being at the mercy of the weather is also an experience – Monday dawned rainy and grey so I was watching the theatre’s twitter like a hawk for news. Luckily the weather improved and the show did go on – a steady drizzle pitter-pattered through the first act but cast and audience alike steadfastly ignored it, and by the second act things were positively damp, rather than rainy.
This is a lovely little production of Pride and Prejudice, with much to recommend it. P&P is a very dense book, which is probably why the BBC adaptation, with it’s six-hour run time (not to mention Colin Firth in a wet shirt) remains the most faithful and well-loved filmed version. As such, the script for this production had to be judicious with cuts and a few changes hither and thither, but the essence and the joy of the story was preserved well. I loved the set as well, and was amazed how with the main framework and a few chairs and other accoutrements the company were able to convey so many different places, from the conviviality of the Longbourn drawing room to the grandeur of Rosings and the gallery at Netherfield.
The cast were very good, with the Bennet sisters all lively and the gentlemen charming, as one would expect. As Mr and Mrs Bennet Matthew Kelly & Felicity Montagu were superb. From Kelly you got a nuanced, interesting Mr Bennet – some productions have him very blustery and removed, but here you got a real glimpse of a man who was kind and caring, but plagued by a mis-step in marriage. Montagu’s Mrs Bennet was a triumph, showing the many facets of the silly, scheming, and often hilarious Mrs Bennet. While not necessarily filled with compassion for her character’s poor nerves, I did adore the portrayal!
I loved the music in this production too. Lillian Henley’s compositions were uniformly charming (to borrow from Mr Collins) and punctuated or accompanied the action on stage quite beautifully. Pride and Prejudice can be seen at the Open Air Theatre until the 17th September, and it will then be embarking on a national tour. I do hope you’ll go to see it, a truly lovely evening’s entertainment.