Even my Year 11 English teacher could not turn me off Jane Austen. I love Austen, like every sensible person should. It is a fact universally known that every woman needs a Mr Darcy in her life and sees herself more as an Elizabeth Bennet than a Lydia or Kitty and that every summer, ‘Pride and Prejudice’ hits my reading list for me to enjoy all over again. So it is a bold enterprise for any company to stage ‘Pride and Prejudice’, adapted for the stage by Simon Reade, but that’s what the Genesian Theatre have done.
It’s far from perfect but it gets the job done. It’s unmistakably Austen, even if it’s awkward. I strongly suspect that a director who could have better mastered the timing of the play and encouraged his actors to look at each other when they speak might have even made the event more enjoyable. Director Owen Gimblett is an accomplished set designer much more than director and it shows. I suggest the Genesians spend some of their budget in securing experienced directors because the cast have some energy and potential and could flourish with someone at the helm who could push them in the right direction.
As it was, it was okay. If you love Austen, this play won’t kill you as it clunks towards its inevitable conclusion but you’ll be left wanting more. When scene changes take longer than scenes, when costumes don’t quite fit, when Bill Gates feels more of a bounder than George Wickham (Carlin Hurdis), when the chemistry between Darcy (Chris James) and Elizabeth Bennet (Jena Napoletano) is non-existent and when the wigs resemble a bad bird’s nest, you have to resign yourself to the fact that this is amateur theatre and lower your (great) expectations.
There were a few bright spots amongst it. Timothy Bennett as Mr Bennet, Camilla Vernon as Caroline Bingley and Sandra Bass as Lady Catherine de Bourgh brought a tremendous amount of energy and expression to their roles and even Christopher Butel as Mr Collins had moments of comic timing.
It’s a big cast and they’re having some fun and it will appeal to the Genesian patrons for its niceties and etiquette on stage. Everyone’s doing something and they are really keeping their focus and commitment is high. But the Genesian’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is a stumble through Austen.
It’s like marrying Mr Collins rather than Fitzwilliam Darcy, if you know what I mean.