It is a fact universally acknowledged that the works of Jane Austen are among the most popular, and indeed, the most frequently adapted, in the English language. It is therefore refreshing to watch a theatrical production that combines a felicity to the original source material with an energy and spirit that is distinctively its own.
For those who are unfamiliar with the story, the Bennet sisters are thrown into the matrimonial marketplace by their match-obsessed mother, Mrs Bennet. Though Jane initially meets success in the form of the affable Mr Bingley, her sister Elizabeth is unimpressed by the aloof Mr Darcy. Convention may prescribe that Darcy belongs to a social-class high above Elizabeth’s – he has inherited a large fortune from his deceased father – but he is rude in manners and conversation. Soon, however, a mutually-appreciative relationship blossoms, culminating in the rehabilitation of Darcy’s character and the familiar romantic reconciliation of the two protagonists.
While Austen is best known for her wry social observations and the wit of her dialogue, here things are often played for laughs. This is no bad thing and makes for an extremely engaging performance. Comedic aspects of the original text are magnified in the larger than life performances of Mrs Bennet by Felicity Montagu and the animated, pompous Mr Collins (Steven Meo). Meanwhile, Elizabeth (Tafline Steen) becomes arch wise-cracker and her put-upon father (Matthew Kelly) is also prone to a cynical one-liner, though he betrays glimpses of a caring disposition.
Perhaps an underappreciated aspect of this production will be the use of music and movement. The stilted dancing of Elizabeth and Darcy and the piano-playing of Mary Bennet are subtly done but rewarded with considerable laughs from the audience. The rotating Theatre Royal stage also adds a surprising dynamism to the production that could easily have been omitted. Actors and crew emerge from this performance with great credit and the Newcastle public will look forward to further adaptations in the future.