Review – Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin – Two Bit Classics – New Wolsey Theatre till Wednesday and touring
Jane Austin was a very witty writer whose wry observations of her life and times make for engaging reading – but for today’s consumer her books can be hard work as she picks through the nuances of her society’s mores and customs. Although her world is alien to us now, her characters still resonate with brilliance – and her themes of love, getting on in society, acquiring a good income and the battles of parents with their young adult children over their future intentions are still as relevant today.
There have been a number of films in recent times that have brought her characters to life – but can the same be done with just two actors on stage, no change of costume, and with a basic set and minimal props?
The answer is – just about. Husband and wife team of Joannah Tincey and Nick Underwood formed Two Bit Classics in 2013 to specifically tour Tincey’s adaptation of probably Austin’s most well known novel, Pride and Prejudice. This is a third revival of the original tour and between them they play 21 characters in a long two acter that covers a substantial amount of the plot.
They both play either genre and their costumes are cleverly designed to change between male and female characters with a flick of their coat tails. Characters are determined by a particular prop – a pipe and book for Mr Bennett, a handkerchief for his wife – or a particular stance. Some characters are determined only by a prop – such as daughter Mary by a music stand.
This is all very clever – and moves at a cracking pace – and the cross dressing lends itself to some wry humour – but with a book that could fill the stage with characters there are severe limitations – many times necessitating the actors to converse with themselves almost reminiscent of a Morecombe and Wise sketch. At times it was hard to determine if this was a send up or a serious adaptation of the novel – I think perhaps the actors had not quite decided this either.
None of this of course detracts from the beauty of Austin’s language, her clever wit and her wonderfully drawn characters. This worked best when a scene involved the cut and thrust of the relationship between just two characters – ie Elizabeth and Darcy – and this play gives you a chance to indulge again in some of those moments. However, with a set that just indicated the various locations with bits of architecture hanging at odd angles and no change of costume or movement of furniture – this could easily have been a radio play – and at two and a half hours it did seem to drag by the second half. The actors are excellent and work extremely hard – but at the end I felt I’d worked equally hard to keep up!
I also think if you don’t know the book well you would struggle to follow what was going on and who was who. This production is really for Austin affectionardos and not for the faint hearted.
But if you love Jane’s writing and want to experience again some of your favourite scenes – you will enjoy this – but don’t expect an easy evening.