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  • Writer's pictureJuilet Archer

Pride & Prejudice adapted by Simon Reade

8 June 2015.  Discovering Darcy

The Crucible Theatre in Sheffield is a regular venue for championship snooker; that’s probably why my husband jumped at the chance of going there last weekend. Little did he know that, instead, his first visit would be to watch a dramatisation of Jane Austen’s best loved novel.

Perhaps he was not alone in this. We took our seats among an audience that included a healthy smattering of men, as well as spanning several age groups and ethnicities. Not that men aren’t allowed to like Austen; she seems to have a solid following among them – although I suspect Pride & Prejudice may have fallen from favour since Colin Firth and Matthew Macfadyen raised the bar for the male sex through their portrayals of Darcy.

To be fair, when the actors burst onto the stage there was no lack of men in snooker-style waistcoats; but that was about as far as you could take any similarity with other events at the Crucible. Then it was full pelt into a two-act adaptation of P&P. The generally young cast – a deliberate choice to echo the ages of the original characters – had no problem with the fast-paced choreography: each scene gave way to the next with the fluid movement of a well-oiled machine.

The set was a far cry from the cultivated look of the film and TV versions, being a backdrop of rough wooden boards and outcrops of coarse grass. According to designer Lez Brotherston, this was intended as an antidote to ‘pretty and neat and nice’ – more ‘a landscape that would be resonant with the situation that the Bennet family find themselves in’. Props such as chairs and tables and pianos were used to portray the different locations. Of course, the costumes were symbols of each character’s social standing. The elegance of Miss Bingley and Lady Catherine presented a contrast to Lizzy’s simple dress, and Wickham’s red jacket instantly drew the eye. Mrs Bennet’s cap and gown ensemble, as she languished in her bedroom fretting over Lydia, was a sight to behold!

Naturally, some of the minor characters were omitted and the dialogue condensed. Also, some of the famous lines were given to a different character, or switched to a different scene. And there was a slapped face – shock, horror! – in the first proposal scene between Lizzy and Darcy. But these changes didn’t matter: the novel was still brought to life before our eyes in all its enchanting wit and verve. We laughed with Lizzy, and at Mr Collins and Mrs Bennet; and comedy was balanced with poignant moments, as in the original.

After a whirlwind finale – where Lizzy, Darcy and Mr Bennet read extracts from their letters to Charlotte, Lady Catherine and Mr Collins respectively – the audience applauded long and loud: a thoroughly deserved accolade, and fit for a snooker world champion!

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