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Pride and Prejudice by Bristol Old Vic Theatre School @ St. Michael’s on the Mount Without

Jane Austen’s timeless classic receives a show-stopping makeover from the graduates of the celebrated Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.

By Milan Perera, Second Year English Literature

Jane Austen’s timeless classic receives a show-stopping makeover from the graduates of the celebrated Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.

It is widely acknowledged that Pride and Prejudice remains the evergreen Magnum Opus of Jane Austen, with multiple screen and theatre adaptations that enthralled audiences over the years. After being served with a myriad of renditions, including the iconic Andrew Davis adaptation, which made the nation lose its collective heartbeat when the dashing Mr. Darcy, played by Colin Firth, emerged from the lake looking like Adonis, it begs the question, ‘Why another one?’

The theatre adaptation of Simon Reade is definitely not ‘another one.’ It triumphs in condensing the 11 hour reading material into 2.5 hours, never losing the original razor-sharp wit, humour, social commentary and the tone of Jane Austen. The director Jenny Stephens marshalled the stellar cast, comprised of the alumni of the Bristol Old Vic with creative energy and empathy.

The story begins when a young, wealthy and single aristocrat named Charles Bingley moves to the estate of Netherfield Park. This event causes a huge commotion in the Bennett household in the nearby village of Longbourn. The sequence of events from thereon out takes the audience on a roller coaster ride of varying emotions from brooding resentment to unbridled joy.

Shivam Pallana and Eve Pereira played the titular roles of Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett with panache and finesse. The dialogues between the two were delivered with aplomb infusing all the necessary emotions without ever sounding mechanical. The famous scene where the two vent their true feelings about one another at the first half of the play raised the room temperature as the pair began to trade insults on each other’s conduct and social standing.

Bill Caple plays a stoical and calm Mr. Bennett while Rebecca Hyde provides, in my opinion, one of the finest renditions of Mrs. Bennett in recent years. She swoops upon her daughters like a mother goose. She cackles and cooes with delight at the prospect of her daughters’ possible matrimonies. She shrieks like a banshee in the face of impediments along the way, but she has the happiness of her daughters at heart. Her antics generated peals of laughter from the audience.

It is not just Mrs. Bennett that reduced the audience to fits of laughter: Taylor Uttley who played Romeo in the autumn production of Romeo and Juliet delivered an outstanding rendition of the haughty aristocrat, Lady Catherine De Bourgh. The curt and condescending comments and the endless huffing and puffing from Lady De Bourgh reduced the crowd to hysterics.

The superbly versatile Rhea Norwood plays Jane Bennett as one rock of sense while Mary Bennett played by Tanvi Virmani never fails to come up with a witty aphorism that has little relevance to the situation. Carlie Diamond plays an animated Lydia and her usual partner in crime, Kitty Bennett is played with verve by Camilla Aiko.

The sycophantic and gormless Mr.Collins is played to a tee by Josh Penrose while Tom Mordell played the roguish charmer, Mr. Wickham with ease. Anna-Sophia Tutton’s portrayal of Mrs. Gardner repletes with sagacity and empathy. There were notable performances from Ruby Ward and Phoebe Cook who played the roles of Georgia and Caroline Bingley with finesse.

The aficionados of period drama must have left a sigh of relief that the cast did not appear in Levi jeans and Nike shoes, which would have been tantamount to blasphemy for a Jane Austen production. The sumptuous period costumes ably captured the beguiling beauty and the elegance of Jane Austen’s world which was oblivious to the impending doom and destruction ensued by the Napoleonic wars.

The venue, St. Michael’s on the Mount Without, assumed a new identity as a theatre and music venue recently after being abandoned for decades. When the mercury dipped to single digits it added a Gothic mystique with its Grecian columns, ornate choir loft and the cavernous sanctum.

The raucous standing ovation at the end was no doubt a seal of approval from a thoroughly enthralled audience for this all-round stellar production.

Featured Image: Courtesty of Bristol Old Vic Theatre School

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