Pride and Prejudice

In this adaptation of Austen’s classic, the young lovers’ encounters lack frisson, but the art of capturing an entire life in a few moments is demonstrated in the supporting roles

Lorna Quinn and Sam O’Mahony in Pride and Prejudice. Photograph: Pat Redmond

Lorna Quinn and Sam O’Mahony in Pride and Prejudice. Photograph: Pat Redmond

Thu, Dec 5, 2013, 15:37

Pride and Prejudice
The Gate Theatre, Dublin
***


Jane Austen’s bicentenary is as good a pretext as any for a revival of Pride and Prejudice. Alan Stanford’s adaptation, last seen in 2002, has been dusted down, and in Bruno Schwengl’s elegantly curved Regency setting, it looks as if it could last another 200 years.

Adapting this celebrated novel, with its brilliant ironic authorial commentary, is tricky, especially shoehorned into 2½ hours. At times this production seems more of a gallop through the plot than a fully realised dramatisation.

The essential elements are there: the five Bennet sisters in white empire-line dresses; their mother, desperate to marry them off to wealthy men; Mr Bennet, an ironic observer of the human comedy, as is his favourite daughter, Elizabeth. Among many other things, the novel charts Elizabeth’s emotional journey away from her father, and her realisation that he is not wholly admirable.

In this production, Elizabeth, played by Lorna Quinn, is also the narrator, directly addressing the audience – at times in character, at others as Austen’s mouthpiece and scene-setter. It is a difficult combination to pull off, and not always successful here: the result is a dilution of Elizabeth’s character, even though she is the central stage presence. Neither she nor Jane, the eldest, seems sufficiently differentiated from the three giddy younger sisters, Mary, Kitty and Lydia, who are on numerous occasions the cause of their acute social embarrassment.

For Austen purists, some scenes will jar, such as Elizabeth rudely refusing to dance with Mr Darcy (Sam O’Mahony) at their first ball. Sometimes the alterations add comedy: during Elizabeth’s unscheduled visit to Darcy’s estate, he stumbles upon her as she gazes in admiration on his portrait.

While the young lovers’ encounters lack frisson, the art of capturing an entire life in a few moments is demonstrated in the supporting roles. Stephen Brennan as Mr Bennet, eyebrows raised; Mark O’Regan nicely underplaying the unctuous Mr Collins; Eleanor Methven as a clear-sighted Mrs Bennet; and Maeve Fitzgerald bringing unexpected poignancy to the role of Charlotte Lucas, steeling herself for a lifetime of teeth-gritting endurance as Mr Collins’s wife. These are subtle performances, which fill out a picture of a stratified world, where survival was about more than waving a mop-cap at a dashing millionaire. Until January 18

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