While a big budget film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice featuring zombies opens this week in cinemas, over at the Arts Club’s Stanley Theatre a more classic version is being presented on stage.
From Victoria playwright Janet Munsil, this 2012 penned adaptation hits all the plot points of Austen’s much-loved story. With its gorgeous look, thanks to Alison Green’s design based largely on John Constable’s landscapes, and the equally gorgeous language courtesy of Munsil and Austen, there is a lightness to this production. In bringing Munsil’s frothy script to life however, director Sarah Rodgers often times goes a little too broad in this comedy of manners.
For the uninitiated, set in England in the early 19th century Pride & Prejudice tells the story of the five unmarried Bennet daughters and their quest for love and marriage. For their mother though, she wants much more for her daughters, insisting that wealth and class are more important qualities than looks, personality, or even love.
The central relationship that blossoms is that of the oldest daughter Elizabeth, played with an amazing balance of warmth and strength by Naomi Wright, who finds herself oddly attracted to Mr Darcy, a man of means who initially dismisses her as plain and beneath him. Played by Eric Craig there is a vulnerability to his Mr Darcy that is wonderful. While their pairing is inevitable, it is one of those quintessential stories of love that has endured and still manages a reaction from the audience in the end.
Not to be left behind are the four other daughters (Kayla Doerksen, Raylene Harewood, Sarah Roa, and Kaitlin Williams). While at times they border in a giggling heap of adolescence, there is a beautiful connection between them all. That bond is highlighted in a wonderful scene at the top of act two as they gather around the family bathtub.
Some of the other characters don’t fare so well and are painted with the broad strokes that make it seem as though there are two different plays at work here. Katey Wright plays Mother Bennet with an excess of exaggeration, and as the snobbish Caroline Bingley, there is little restraint from Amanda Lisman. Scott Bellis delves into the ridiculous as the pious Mr Collins, and oddly enough even dons a dress as a housekeeper.
The addition of live music by Daniel Deorksen and Sarah Donald, who do double duty as the Gardiners, is one added touch that works well. With music inspired by Austen’s very own music library, it adds a certain grace that is missing elsewhere.
Perhaps because there are few surprises in Austen’s well-worn story there is a desire to conjure something different. While there are underlying satirical themes, the love story is why we are here. It shouldn’t get lost.
Pride and Prejudice by Janet Munsil. Based on the novel by Jane Austen. Directed by Sarah Rodgers. An Arts Club Theatre Company production on stage at the Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage until February 28. Visit https://artsclub.com for tickets and information.