It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice is one of the best-loved novels in the English language. So adapting it for the stage could bring you under a lot of scrutiny – add into the fact that it will be performed by a company of two and it’s even more challenging. Two Bit Classics are touring their adaptation of this famous story, which is currently showing at Greenwich Theatre.
For those unaware of the story, it centres around the Bennet family in a comedy of manners and a love story that has stood the test of time. An eligible bachelor, Mr Bingley, moves into the nearby country house of Netherfield Park and, of course, all of the unmarried girls in the area are thrown in his direction – including eldest Bennet daughter, Jane. Elizabeth, the next sister, is pushed towards a distant relation though she turns her attentions to the dashing captain, Mr Wickham, a childhood acquaintance of Bingley’s friend Mr Darcy. Elizabeth & Darcy are at odds with each other during every encounter, though as they get to know each other a bit more the mood changes and – to everyone’s surprise – they eventually admit their love for one another.
That is, of course, a massive over-simplification of the story – and thankfully something the production is not guilty of. Running at approximately two-and-a-half hours (with an interval) it is a faithful representation of each plot & subplot in the novel, leaving no stone unturned & keeping all essential details firmly in place. The first act could maybe be a bit shorter, perhaps ending at Darcy & Elizabeth coming face-to-face at Rosings as a bit of a cliffhanger – though pausing after Elizabeth rejects Darcy’s proposal does create a lot of drama leading into the second act. In having a cast of two, there is much more of a focus on pairings or, as adaptor (& cast member) Joannah Tincey puts it in her programme notes, “double-acts”. When you think about it, even if there is supposed to be a roomful of people, conversations are quite often two-way things – so by having just two actors you don’t really lose anything, in fact it actually amplifies the moment between those two characters.
Having said that, there are obviously several scenes in which multiple characters are involved, but thanks to thoughtful writing & clever costume design, the changeovers are made to look effortless. Dora Schweitzer’s design is simply outstanding. Everything that you would expect in a Regency costume is there, and is also practically minded to enable the actors to switch between roles without losing time or sense of character. My particular favourite is Tincey switching from a female character to Bingley, by swiftly unhooking the front of her skirt to reveal trousers & riding boots; the fact that she sometimes has to hold her skirt behind her actually fits with her laddish portrayal of Bingley.
Schweitzer is also responsible for designing the set – it is slightly discordant & abstract, yet beautiful at the same time. Elements of each kind of room are incorporated to ensure it is a constant fit for each scene, with the addition of some moveable furniture, which is always moved without any semblance of a break in performance.
And it’s the performances from Tincey & Nick Underwood that really make this show what it is.
Underwood takes on few female roles, initially bringing a heavily comedic feel (especially with coughing Kitty), though as the story progresses his portrayal of Jane has a real tenderness about it. He is as imperious as one might expect Darcy to be, though taking care to develop him as the show goes on.
Joannah Tincey is absolutely superb. From the overbearing Mrs Bennet, to the strapping Mr Bingley & the spirited Elizabeth, she inhabits each & every one to give a multitude of brilliant individual performances. Her sense of comedy is second-to-none, and she’s also adept at playing up the drama in the more serious scenes.
They work wonderfully as a team and, despite a few other love stories resolving at earlier points in the show, I enjoy the fact that they tease out the kiss until Elizabeth & Darcy are finally brought together at the end. A clear way to close the book.
My verdict? Immaculate storytelling, in no way minimalist despite the lack of numbers onstage – a faithful, yet fresh, production of a classic tale.
Pride and Prejudice (Two Bit Classics) runs at Greenwich Theatre until 22 October 2016. Its UK tour continues until 25 November 2016, before a run at Jermyn Street Theatre until 21 December 2016. Tickets and full tour details are available online and from individual box offices.