Jane Austen’s classic tale of manners, morality and marriage in Regency England, first published in 1813, consistently appears near the top of lists of ‘most-loved books’ among both literary scholars and the general public. The story centres on the protagonist, Elizabeth (Lizzie) Bennet, as she experiences a myriad of emotions while she and her four sisters consider suitable husbands. Lizzie hastily judges the actions of Mr Darcy and then comes to appreciate that superficial actions are not always the true means to assess someone’s character.
RAODS is marking the 200th anniversary of the death of Hampshire’s most famous author with an admirable adaptation by Janet Munsil, written in 2012, which faithfully retains much of the wit and romance of the original text. Sadly, anyone expecting Colin Firth to emerge from the wings, dripping wet from a dip in the Romsey canal, will be slightly disappointed. However, the production itself, directed by Julie Edwards, should compensate, leaving patrons satisfied that Austen’s text has been faithfully followed.
Elizabeth is played with enduring quality by RAODS newcomer Emily Ruos – showing great depth to her character as the play progresses – while Jonathan Barney-Marmont makes a welcome return to the Plaza stage playing Mr Darcy.
Stand-out performances are from Diana Thomas, who gives a spirited, energetic portrayal of Kitty, true to the original text; Meriel Shepherd, who plays the charismatic and exuberant Mrs Bennet alongside her long-suffering but convivial husband, Mr Bennet, played by Dave Francis; Jasmine Roll, who plays the eldest, and therefore in Mrs Bennet’s eyes the ‘prettiest’ daughter, Jane; and Mat Robinson, whose portrayal of Mr Collins is comical, although it would benefit from being even sleazier. The chemistry between key characters isn’t always evident, and some of the actors really needed to develop more into their role to be believable in their portrayal. At times it feels confusing whether the actors are performing out to the audience or to each other, and some of the movements feel forced and without meaning. Opening night had its usual (and expected) line stumbles and a little weak diction, but this should all remedy itself as the production gets into its flow.
The set design by John Witham is at first glance very crisp, although as the piece progresses it is under-utilised and the precise location of individual scenes is confusing. The director has chosen to incorporate live music, which is a nice touch, although somewhat superfluous.
With over 50 costumes shared between the 20 cast members, there are at times some minimal period errors, but they are delightful to look at and must pose some interesting backstage challenges with some exceptional quick changes.
All in all, the audience were very appreciative, and the cast deserves to enjoy a good run.
The production runs until 18 March at 7.30 each evening.