Pride & Prejudice at The Liverpool Playhouse

Posted on 9 February 2017
By Miranda Humphreys Green
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To marry for love or money, that is the question posed by Pride and Prejudice at Liverpool’s Playhouse until 11th Feb. The Bennets have five, count them, daughters, who will be left destitute upon their father’s death as his estate passes to the closest male heir – the pompous and self-aggrandizing Mr. Collins.

Mrs. Bennet’s opinion is oft quoted, namely that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. What she means is in fact the exact opposite: that a single woman lacking a good fortune desperately needs a rich husband.

Mr. Collins offers a solution when he proposes to Lizzie, the brightest though not the most beautiful Bennet sister. Lizzie is appalled at the prospect; Mrs. Bennet is appalled at her rejection of Mr. Collins; Mr. Bennet tells Lizzie he would have been appalled if she had accepted!

Meanwhile, nearby Netherfield is finally let to the very eligible Bingley, who takes a shine to Jane Bennet, and a regiment of soldiers barracked in the village keeps the younger sisters’ hearts a-flutter. Lizzie meets the wonderfully aloof Darcy at the Netherfield ball and forms a low opinion of him.

What follows is an exploration of different models of marriage: Mr. Bennet has himself married for youth and looks and lived to regret it; Charlotte Lucas settles for the sensible but unappetising option and is not unhappy for it; Jane Bennet finds true love with Mr. Bingley, albeit after she has broken her heart over him; and Lydia Bennet acts impulsively and very nearly disastrously when she elopes with the caddish redcoat, Wickham.

And Lizzie and Darcy discover that his pride and her early prejudice against him almost thwart their happy-ever-after.

Austen of course writes with much wit and agility, and it’s hard to go too far wrong if you stick to her script, but this production embodies a very physical element, with a capering Mr. Collins, much wailing and gnashing of teeth from Mrs. Bennet and girlish squeals and excitable wriggling from the Bennet sisters.

Played for laughs, Steven Meo’s Mr. Collins was perhaps a little too clowning for a man of such self-importance but it certainly made for an entertaining spectacle. But it is Felicity Montagu’s Mrs. Bennet who steals the show. It would be easy to reduce the more comedic characters to mere caricature but Felicity Montagu manages to parcel up Mrs. Bennet’s brash single-minded pursuit of husbands for her daughters, affectation and self-indulgent swooning among the smelling salts along with genuine anxiety, affection and vulnerability to create a complex character.

Mr. Bennet gets all the best lines and if it is slightly incongruous watching Stars in Their Eyes’ Matthew Kelly in the role (And tonight, Matthew, you’re going to be Mr. Bennet!) he nevertheless proves an able actor.

Tafline Steen’s Lizzie was energetic and Benjamin Dalloway skulked wonderfully as Darcy. However, Hollie Edwin as Jane, although statuesque, lacked the composure of Austen’s paragon. Kirsty Rider was perfectly poisonous as Caroline Bingley and special mention goes to Leigh Quinn as the bookish Mary Bennet who, like Austen herself, seems to choose spinsterhood over matrimony. Her lack of accomplishments is made ridiculous, hilariously so, but once again caricature is avoided in that one vignette where she silently weeps on the stair at her humiliation.

This is no post-modern re-interpretation of Austen but it is a faithful and enjoyable production which weaves its multiple plots around the simple and stylish wrought iron set with the grace and proficiency of a Regency dance.

Pride and Prejudice
The Liverpool Playhouse
February 7 – February 11, 2017
Author: Jane Austen adapted by Simon Reade
Cast Includes: Matthew Kelly, Felicity Montagu, Benjamin Dilloway, Tafline Steen
PR RATING **** Charming