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Pride & Prejuduce


Chris Eldon Lee reviews  Hotbuckle’s “Pride and Prejudice” ... which is touring widely

What’s the difference between Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy?

Answer : a piece of Velcro .... and some extremely fine acting.

In an instant actor Tomas Mason transforms himself from one character to the other before your very eyes. It’s the colour of the necktie that keep the audience on track. The deftness of the process is extenuated when he needs help. Another actor stands behind him to apply a purple tie the moment Tomas rips the black one off ... and by speaking all the while, he can even have a conversation with himself.

It’s this kind of sleight of hand that delights Hotbuckle audiences every time; and as the company is embarking on this season’s tour with just three actors, there is even more trickery and tom-foolery to enjoy.  

Consequently, Tomas plays almost every male character in Hotbuckle’s super slick and fabulously funny production of ‘Pride and Prejudice’. The other newcomer to the company Katherine Lea is Elizabeth Bennet and the familiar Joanna Purslow plays practically everyone else. Hence the hilarity; for the way the trio handle the practicalities of the play is as entertaining as Adrian Preater’s neatly synthesised script.

The habit of people addressing each other formally by name in Georgian England makes plot-following a breeze, and Austin’s prose remains clear and unadulterated amidst the mayhem. I heard one lady at Aberdovey saying she had been an Austen fan all her life and had never seen a more authentic and entertaining adaptation ever before. “It’s much better than that chap in a wet shirt.”

So, there’s no wet shirt in this show. They’d never get Tomas dry again for his next transformation. But there are plenty of trademark set pieces. There’s a duck feeding scene with no actual ducks (just Joanna quacking into a microphone) and a synchronised soup-slurping scene with no soup (though you could tell by their facial expressions it was over-spiced).

There are three giggling girls in mob caps, gossiping neighbours, and conversations about how shocking it is to a have a cold.

Austen’s comedy of manners – good manners and bad – shines through. Hotbuckle, as ever, take the mick out of 19th Century mores but are never disrespectful.

Each proposal of marriage is a tantalising moment, even if Austen fans already know the answer. Tomas’s Mr. Darcy is so haughty and blunt he has no chance. His Mr. Collins is so smarmy and self-obsessed he gets similar just deserts.

The characterisation of Collins is a real hoot. Austen sets him up to be laughed at and Tomas gets a laugh on Collins’ every entrance. He is odious, posturing and smarmy, smoothing his hair affectedly. Whenever he speaks the name of his patron, his adulation is a sneering put down of all the assembled polite company. When Catherine de Bough finally appears (another perfect pompous cameo from Joanna) director Adrian Preater obliges him – as an act of servitude – to hold an up-turned chair over her head as a reverential canopy.

The chairs, by the way, do almost as much acting as the actors.

The Hotbuckle tradition is for the central character to tell the story.  Katherine Lea – as Elizabeth Bennet – has perfected the art of slipping from narrator to heroine so seamlessly you hardly notice. Her Elizabeth is – as Austen must have intended - very much a modern woman in a crinoline. She is clear, bright and beautifully spoken and skippingly alive. Katherine is such a natural communicator she becomes the audience’s faithful friend throughout.

Joanna’s key role is the fussing Mrs. Bennet – so passionate to get her girls married off, and so hysterically hilarious whenever one gets a bite.

And I must mention Tomas’s Mr. Wickham, who almost appears to have wandered in from another play. In his red soldier’s coat, he is quite uncourtly and downbeat, with a distinct lack of airs and graces. He is a clear antidote to the chattering classes and a fine illustration to Tomas’s subtlety of characterisation.   

The shorter second act is charmingly tumultuous and the third proposal of marriage is by far the funniest. The audience at Aberdovey loved it.

Pride and Prejudice is now on tour for 12 weeks. I just hope the Velcro lasts the course.

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