Jane Austen’s beloved novel is brought to life in the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre production currently touring the UK – with a few changes that muddle the plot.
It is difficult to adapt a beloved novel to a stage in a way that pleases fans of the original text as well as introducing the story to new audiences who might not be as familiar with the story.
In Deborah Bruce’s charming and elegant production, the audience is immediately drawn into the story of Mr and Mrs Bennet as they attempt to marry off their five daughters. When Mr Bingley arrives in the neighbourhood with his friend Mr Darcy, it seems that love is in the air for Jane Bennet and Mr Bingley but for Elizabeth and Mr Darcy it is not quite that easy.
The set, beautifully designed by Max Jones really captures the variety of settings required throughout the telling of this most romantic love stories. With a revolving stage it means that the action can move forward with ease and style, while at the same time making the audience feel involved by offering new perspectives – particularly during the more intimate moments such as dinner parties and the balls.
But the main issue with the production is the way in which Simon Reade’s adaptation is that it changes and crams too many elements of the plot into one scene. For example, the audience doesn’t meet Wickham until the Netherfield ball – a scene in which he wasn’t in originally and means that the conversation between Elizabeth and Darcy is lacking in intensity when they dance or when it is discovered that Lydia has run away and her and Wickham turn up unexpectedly – it feels slightly rushed.
Of course, you can’t expect the stage production to be exactly like the novel, particularly when several characters have been cut for logical reasons, but at the same time by changing plot elements around it can mean the story can have a different feel about it and can seem unfinished in places.
Yet at the same time, it is a pleasure to see so much of the dialogue and passages from the book transformed put into the script, that much of Austen’s wit can still be enjoyed.
There are some great performances from the cast, not least from Jessica D’Arcy who is making her professional debut in the production, bringing a charming and delightful quality to Elizabeth Bennet, while also showcasing her more opinionated side with ease. There is also great performances from Benjamin Dilloway, suitably snooty and haughty as Mr Darcy, Matthew Kelly’s more affectionate but still sharp witted Mr Bennet and Felicity Montagu as Mrs Bennet who just wants what is best for her girls.
This is a charming and elegantly directed production that offers a new perspective of a classic story but some Jane Austen fans might struggle with Simon Reade’s adaptation.