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Dramatised from Jane Austen’s classic novel by Helen Jerome
Hill – Michael J Smith
Directed by Sam Moulton
Designed by Jackson Ellen & Chris Durham
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Wimborne Drama rarely put on a poor production, and ‘Pride and Prejudice’ keeps up their high standard. It demands a large cast but there is barely a weak link, and it is staged in the gardens of Deans Court, the fourth time that Wimborne Drama have made use of those very special surroundings for their annual open-air drama.
Jane Austen’s 1813 novel about the five Bennet daughters and the grim determination of their mother to marry them off is well-known, but this stage version of the story is less familiar. Adapted by the Australian playwright, Helen Jerome, it was first produced in 1936 and on the whole does a very good job of capturing the wit, perception and even genteel bitchiness of the original. At the same time it compresses the plot so that it moves at a rather faster pace than does the novel; Kitty Bennet does not even appear. While this removes some of the longueurs of an early 19th-century novel, it does mean that there is little chance to develop much depth in any but the main characters.
All of those characters are excellently played. Chrissie Neal gives a first-class comedy performance as Mrs Bennet, taking it just to the point where it could tip into pantomime caricature but skilfully keeping the right side of the line. She makes Mrs Bennet a monster, but a loveable monster. This is all the more commendable because she took over the part at comparatively short notice. She has some splendid sparring matches with Gary Paine as Mr Bennet. He seems rather too young and vigorous for a man with five all but grown-up daughters, but he puts across some good put-downs of his frenetically tactless wife, and his fond relationship with his daughters is touching.
Mr Darcy reveals two quite different sides to his character, which makes it a tough part to play. Rob Cording is very good as the dislikeable, supercilious sobersides of Act 1. He is less convincing as someone whose defences have been breached and who has lost his heart. He maintains the stiff posture and monotone delivery of his other self, which makes it hard to believe that he is head over heels in love with Elizabeth.
As Elizabeth Bennet, Tracey Nicholls is outstanding. Her strength of character, capability and sense of amused cynicism come across strongly. This is a modern woman who is not going to be daunted by anyone and is going to give as good as she gets, even to Caroline Burr’s Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who could give Lady Bracknell lessons in imperiousness.
However this is above all an ensemble piece and among the supporting cast, Kimberley Scott as Jane Bennet, sick for love of Mr Bingley, Sabina Eberle as the odious Miss Bingley and Kristy Dixon as Charlotte Collins, née Lucas, stood out. Cameos deserving a mention came from Michael J Smith and Mark Ellen as Hill the butler and Colonel Fitzwilliam respectively.
Sam Moulton’s production coped well with the special challenges of open-air drama. It was particularly noticeable how Elizabeth usually sat slightly apart, perhaps distancing herself from the antics of her sisters. The clever set was quite easily adaptable from the genteel impecuniousness of the Bennet household to the seriously grand country seat of Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
Open-air theatre has a character of its own. A cool evening and over-active bugs can make it something of an ordeal, but such discomforts are quickly forgotten if the production is of a high enough standard. This one undoubtedly is.
John Newth, Scene One
It is a truth universally acknowledged that there is no better way to spend a summer's evening than watching a much loved play produced by a fine cast in idyllic surroundings.
That is exactly what audiences were able to enjoy at the weekend.
It was a big production with a big cast with beautiful costumes and a couple of scene changes that were so adept they got their own rounds of applause!
The story of the Bennet family, who for financial reasons need to ensure their five daughters marry well, has been told in numerous cinema and TV productions. Nevertheless, this dramatisation of Jane Austen's classic novel by Helen Jerome, depicting the lives of those whose wealth precludes them from working, is still hugely entertaining.
With 20 characters, it is impossible to mention everyone, although with no weak links, they all deserve accolades.
You would never have guessed that Chrissie Neal had stepped into the pivotal role of Mrs Bennet at extremely short notice as her word perfect performance was more that of someone who had rehearsed for months. She simply became that snobby mother with her eyes on wealthy neighbours as matches for her girls.
It was good to see Gary Paine back on the am-dram scene. Formerly a leading light with the Broadstone Players, he added just the right measure of humour as the put upon Mr Bennet.
Tracey Nicholls was perfect as the strong minded and intelligent Elizabeth, fighting her attraction to Mr Darcy, played with the utmost cool by Rob Cording.
When it comes to being both bitchy, officious and superior, Sabine Eberle had really got the measure of her character Miss Bingley, whilst in a similar genre Caroline Burr as Lady Catherine de Bourgh made the Dowager Countess of Grantham (from Downton Abbey) seem like a pussycat.
Director Sam Moulton should be reflecting on yet another highly successful open air production under Wimborne Drama's belt.
Marilyn Barber, Stour and Avon Magazine
Photographs: Richard Neal and Sam Moulton
Wimborne Drama Productions