PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 8th November, 2017
Not the Donald Trump story but Jane Austen’s finest and funniest novel, brought to the stage in this touring production by Regent’s Park Theatre, in a sparkling adaptation by Simon Reade.
Reade captures the wit of the dialogue and the spirit of each character, and director Deborah Bruce includes moments of broader comedy, as well as linking scenes with stylised sequences that evoke both period, character and storytelling. Choreography plays a huge part in creating atmosphere and adding to the fun, courtesy of movement director Sian Williams and beautiful, haunting music composed by Lillian Henley. The characters, dressed by Tom Piper, inhabit the elegant revolving set (designed by Max Jones) – decorative railings and sweeping staircases serve for all locations, aided by Tina Machugh’s expressive lighting. Production values are high and the excellent cast lives up to them.
Felicity Montagu is in superb form as Mrs Bennet, desperate to marry off her five daughters to whomever crosses their path. Matthew Kelly is equally delightful as her long-suffering husband and the indulgent father of his brood. Of the girls, Hollie Edwin certainly looks the part as the pretty one, Jane, and Mari Izzard bounces around as the spirited one, Lydia. Of course, it is Elizabeth who is our focus, winningly played by Tafline Steen, tempering Elizabeth’s headstrong nature with charm and humour. Benjamin Dilloway towers over proceedings as a sour-faced but handsome Mr Darcy and it’s not long before we are willing the pair to get together, in this quintessential rom-com.
There is strong support from Steven Meo as the insufferable parson Mr Collins and Daniel Abbott is a suitably dashing and roguish Mr Wickham. Dona Croll impresses as the haughty Lady Catherine De Bourgh, a forerunner of Lady Bracknell, and I also like Kirsty Rider’s snobbish Miss Caroline.
Elizabeth and Darcy may be the stars but it is the double-act of Montagu and Kelly, two seasoned performers with exquisite comic timing, that have the star quality among this comparatively young and inexperienced ensemble. Mr and Mrs Bennet are a joy to behold.
Delivered with a lightness of touch, this is an utterly charming evening at the theatre, a refreshing retelling of the classic tale. Austen seems as fresh and funny as she ever was and her wry observations of human nature, albeit in a rarefied and bygone milieu, still delight and ring true.
Felicity Montagu and Matthew Kelly stealing the show (Photo: Johan Persson)
Leave a comment | tags: Benjamin Dilloway, Birmingham Rep, Daniel Abbott, Deborah Bruce, Dona Croll, Felicity Montagu, Hollie Edwin, Jane Austen, Kirsty Rider, Lillian Henley, Mari Izzard, Matthew Kelly, Max Jones, Pride And Prejudice, Regent's Park Theatre, review, Sian Williams, Simon Reade, Steven Meo, Tafline Steen, Tina Machugh, Tom Piper | posted in Theatre Review
OF MICE AND MEN
The REP, Birmingham, Tuesday 14th October, 2014
The REP’s resident artistic director Roxana Silbert delivers a knockout production of John Steinbeck’s classic tragedy of lowly men. She has assembled a strong ensemble of players and draws from them powerful performances in a somewhat lyrical, naturalistic way in a stylised setting. This mixture of emotional truth and having the mechanics of the theatre in view all along works tremendously well, thanks to Liz Ascroft’s design and Simon Bond’s lighting but mainly, of course, due to the stellar company of actors.
Michael Legge is long-suffering, neurotic George, travelling across Depression-riddled America with companion Lennie, who is more of a hindrance than a help. As Lennie spoils things for George every step of the way and George displays his deep-rooted annoyance, you wonder why he stays with the big galoot. But as we meet other characters and their loneliness is painfully laid bare, we realise it is loneliness that binds George to liability Lennie. Even the nearest town is called Soledad (loneliness in Spanish).
Norman Bowman is striking as macho but warm-hearted Slim, while Ciaran O’Brien makes hothead Curley volatile and dangerous, a victim of small-man syndrome if ever there was one. James Hayes is heartbreaking as old timer Candy, evoking strong emotions as he carries a bit of old sack, fashioned to represent his elderly dog, and Dave Fishley brings both dignity and anguish to crippled Crooks. Lorna Nickson-Brown is trouble on legs as Curley’s otherwise unnamed wife (apart from ‘tart’) – They all come across as very real, although they are cogs that Steinbeck winds ever tighter so the tragic climax becomes inexorable and inevitable. The American Dream is unattainable, he says, but it’s what keeps people going in times of extreme hardship. One wonders what the British equivalent is, during this period of austerity. Vera Lynn, perhaps, promising blue birds over Dover’s white cliffs…?
The central relationship between George and Lennie is the keystone of the entire piece. Silbert brings their contrasting aspects into sharp focus. Michael Legge is superb as crotchety George, but Benjamin Dilloway’s Lennie is an outstanding piece of character work. His Lennie amuses, touches and frightens us, all within a range of seconds, and back again. He is a not-so gentle giant who should not be allowed in a petting zoo.
Even if you know the story, this production cranks up the tension, making the brief flashes of humour and the briefer glimpses of hope of a better life all the more poignant. Intense, gripping and devastating, this Of Mice And Men resonates with humanity unloved and the tragedy of unrealisable dreams.
Rabbit rabbit rabbit. Michael Legge and Benjamin Dilloway
Photo: Ellie Kurtz
Leave a comment | tags: Benjamin Dilloway, Ciaran O'Brien, Dave Fishley, James Hayes, John Steinbeck, Liz Ascroft, Lorna Nickson-Brown, Michael Legge, Norman Bowman, Of Mice And Men, review, Roxana Silbert, Simon Bond, The REP Birmingham | posted in Theatre Review