Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Musical knocks stuffiness out of classic tale

IT’S a truth universally acknowledged that a man with a fortune needs a wife to help him spend it, and that’s what this updated, musical version of Jane Austen’s classic is all about.

IT’S a truth universally acknowledged that a man with a fortune needs a wife to help him spend it, and that’s what this updated, musical version of Jane Austen’s classic is all about.

Mrs Bennett kicks off the action by imploring her husband to visit the rich Johnny-come-lately, Mr Bingley, in the hope that he might want to marry one of their five daughters. She berates all five of them for their tardiness in attracting a decent (in other words, wealthy) match, but it’s Elizabeth who really worries her. “She’s far too independent for her own good,” she says. “No man will look at her.” Mrs Bennett may be in earnest but in that line you can hear Austen’s tongue being planted very firmly in her cheek.

All the twists and turns of the original plot are still there in this show, but the pyrotechnic displays of language that Austen employed have been toned down and made easier for a modern audience, and the action in each scene is illustrated with a song.

It’s a while before we meet our Darcy, but when Oliver Dench walks on stage there’s no mistaking him. The former Henley College student is now a professional actor. He is tall and slim and has the pinched cheek bones and an air of cool propriety about him that belongs only to the upper classes. Samantha Field’s Lizzie is equally well cast. Ms Field has a fine mezzo voice and sings her solos with great gusto and command, displaying the hot-headedness and spirit that define this character.

This is an entertaining production, underpinned by an eclectic mix of music from a good size orchestra, under the baton of Alan Lineham.

Director Julie Huntington draws fine performances from the cast. Rowena McMenamin and Tim Sloane are a great double act as the pretentious and over-anxious Mrs Bennett and her long-suffering but witty husband. Fiona Hayden Cadd is a sweeter than sweet Jane, and Michael Herbert a particularly oily and obsequious Mr Collins. Sam Riley was slick as the stuck-up Caroline Bingley and drew loud applause for her solo persuading her brother to ditch the inferior Lizzie.

Of course, like all good romcoms, it has a happy ending, only in this version all the couples are on stage, holding hands, smiling and singing. Seeing the hard-hearted Darcy and headstrong Elizabeth melt into each other’s arms is a real feelgood moment — a testament to the fact that love really can conquer such despicable emotions as pride and prejudice.

Pride And Prejudice, The Musical, HAODS

Kenton Theatre, Wednesday, November 13

Lesley Potter

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