Pride and Prejudice: Mr Darcy and co face the music

Austen’s essential mix of warmth, liveliness, longing and wit has been maintained in this musical treatment

Pride and Prejudice: If the novel’s subtle social observation is disguised here, the excuse has to be that three hours is not long enough. Photograph: Marcin Lewandowski

Pride and Prejudice: If the novel’s subtle social observation is disguised here, the excuse has to be that three hours is not long enough. Photograph: Marcin Lewandowski

 

Pride and Prejudice:
The Musical
Everyman, Cork
***

If further proof were required of Jane Austen’s invincibility, then this Everyman/Lyric co-presentation must be it.

This musical treatment, by writer, director and lyricist Richard Croxford, leaves Austen’s finest prose and most famous episodes more or less as she wrote them, framed by Mark Dougherty’s score but otherwise uninterrupted.

The core plot tells how sprightly Elizabeth Bennet’s initial dislike of haughty Mr Darcy turns to love despite the vulgarity of her family and the immensity of his wealth; the unauthorised kiss at the end is greeted with such applause as to suggest total audience engagement in the romance.

The narrative may have been condensed, and its nonsensical elements over-stretched, but Austen’s essential mix of warmth, liveliness, longing and wit has been maintained. If this disguises the novel’s subtle social observation, the excuse has to be that three hours is not long enough.

There is real visual pleasure in the design by Robin Peoples, all Constable and flying porticos, matched with ebullient choreography by Deborah Maguire.

The measured delivery by Ben Sleep as Mr Bennet, Matt Blaker as Mr Bingley and Gerard McCabe as Mr Collins gives Austen’s (and perhaps Croxford’s) words their weight. The Bennet women, meanwhile, are a clutch of hysterics; Neil McDermott’s Darcy has marched in from Wuthering Heights as if displeased by the domestic situation there; Lady Catherine de Burgh’s post-menopausal baritone suggests an escapee from The Pirates of Penzance; while poor Mary Bennet keeps her face hidden behind a book, probably because she is a man – as indeed is Lady Catherine (Ben Sleep again).

So far, so entertaining. However, while adding to the rhythmic jollity, Dougherty’s music is another matter. Although six musicians are present (there are no programmes), only one can be heard: the keyboard/piano score is played at an amplification that either flattens or sharpens key, tone and melody, sending the otherwise capable voices striving for pitch and stretching to catch Croxford’s demanding phrasing and to compete with loudly repetitive themes.

Some moments of harmonic coherence and musicality may be discerned, but too few to be significant.
Until August 31