Chris Eldon Lee reviews Shropshire Youth Theatre’s production of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ which is at Theatre Severn until April 11th
I can’t remember having had so much fun at a Youth Theatre production.
From the moment Elliot Auxant, as Mr Bennett, nails his first, page-one laugh, the comedy flows in all directions like runny honey. And the first-night audience couldn’t help slurping it up.
Putting Jane Austin’s comedy of pretentiousness into the hands of modern-day teenagers has two subtle effects. 19th century high society was cocooned in innocence. The landed gentry were comfortably well off, and young, single ladies were rarely allowed out. So, to have our (relatively!) innocent youngsters playing the past’s playground grown-ups has an unexpected air of authenticity. The cast work jolly hard at delivering their lines in the requisite polite, period style. But when the ladies become vexed, the actors can’t help slipping into their own 21st Century soap style. Yet the surprising dashes of ‘Hollyoaks’ (intended or otherwise) just heighten the farcical nature of the ‘goings on’; applying yet another layer of comedy to what is already a very funny show.
Jane Austin’s mission was to shine a tongue-in-cheek light on her Society and let it make a mockery of itself. This Shropshire Youth Theatre production gives her a huge helping hand.
Andrew Bannerman’s new adaptation lines up the silly situations and his young cast – without exception – make sure we get every gag. They are supremely confident, very well drilled, have perfect timing, and you feel any one of the would be qualified to give a Ted Talk on etiquette in the 1800s.
Sam Marcroft wears the desperation of Mrs. Bennet on her crinoline sleeve; somersaulting shamelessly in her affection – or contempt – for her daughters’ suitors. You can quite see why her husband takes to his library.
Ruth Streetly plays her daughter Elizabeth with plenty of common sense and a steely determination to be a modern miss. “I am not just an elegant female, but a rational person”. Pity, then, poor Mr. Darcy. Sam Marine underplays the underdog beautifully…oscillating neatly between diffidence and diligence. He plays a calculated long game to win her heart and their last love scene together deserves a collective sigh.
These two are so strong and stable in the central roles, the rest of the cast can take as many liberties as they like. And they do. Elizabeth’s sisters are very well drawn in this production; from the dull, bespectacled Mary, demurely portrayed by Jazzy Shipp (an Equity name if ever I heard one) to the outrageously excitable and fierily flirtatious Lydia, played with great gusto and absolute abandon by Talitha Lund. All five sisters win the audience’s hearts in their own special ways and, together, make a formiable team.
The figures of snobbish fun are highly entertaining. Abbie Townsend is terrifyingly tart as the socially-climbing, man-hunting Caroline. Her flashing eyes and hectoring sarcasm had the audience in fits of laughter. Lily Hayward’s stately Catherine de Bourgh is two thirds Lady Bracknell and one third wicked witch as she tries, hopelessly, to rule the roost.
Caleb Richards, in his ministerial black and pony tail, really gets his teeth into the part of the Reverend Collins. He’s taken on board that his character is a smarmy, conceited and pompous man and makes him sleazily obsequious on top. Having had his first ‘filly’ refuse him, the moment he changes horses, mid-race, is squirmingly funny. It is hard to believe he is only 14.
It’s an all-round sparkling show, slickly presented in a stylish setting, and augmented by some genuine period choreography.
Rarely can Jane Austin have been so well served by the youth of today.