Pride and Prejudice is a difficult story to adapt. It is, after all, one of the most adapted novels ever written. You would be forgiven, therefore, for thinking that it could be outdated. You could also be forgiven for thinking that the film and television adaptations were sufficient. This is, however, not true. The recent run of Pride and Prejudice at the Gate Theatre, adapted by James Maxwell, is successful in reminding its audience that Jane Austen’s best loved story will never be a tired formula.
Pride and Prejudice follows Elizabeth Bennet, her four sisters and their mother, who is intent upon getting her daughters married to suitable men. Bennet’s attention quickly turns to the proud, haughty and very wealthy Mr. Darcy, who she quickly grows to detest. The story is, at its centre, a comedy, showing the chance encounters and misunderstandings that make up a flawed relationship.
Maxwell’s adaptation of the classic novel works so well on the stage that it sometimes feels like it were originally written for that purpose. The set design is beautiful, ornate and intricate, and is crafted with skill to enable various scenes to take place in the same setting with very little change.
The writing is superb, and retains much of Austen’s charm and wit while also entertaining as an original piece in its own right. Elizabeth Bennet delivers the novel’s witty and famous opening line in what is a somewhat stilted, if oddly enjoyable ode to its source material. The narrative technique, of Bennet rushing to the front of the stage to narrate the story works surprisingly well. This is a credit to the beautiful and playful acting of Lorna Quinn as Bennet.
It is perhaps the performances that make this adaptation so enjoyable, and the cast is one of great talent. Sam O’Mahony as Mr. Darcy stuns in what is both a vastly entertaining and comedic role, as well as the handsome and aloof love interest of Bennet. The actresses playing the Bennet sisters perfectly capture the very different spirits written by Austen over two hundred years ago. Perhaps the star of the show is Eleanor Methven as Mrs. Bennet, who is insistent upon marrying her daughters off to suitable men. Endlessly entertaining and raucously funny, Methven captures the audience with her wonderful wit and superb talent.
Maxwell’s adaptation of Austen’s classic novel is a resounding success. Hilarious, touching and triumphant, the play makes use of its talented cast, and it is clear that everybody on stage is enjoying themselves. Expertly written and adapted, combined with a beautiful set that roots the story in its early nineteenth century setting, this play is one of beauty and humour. Having already been brought back for a second run, one hopes that the Gate Theatre will continue to revive this stunning production.