Heartbreak Productions return to Jesmond Dene this summer for their fifteenth annual visit to our lovely city park in Newcastle. They kicked off the season with a sparkling outdoor performance of the ever popular comedy of manners and morals – Pride and Prejudice.
The weather was fine and the audience was in jovial mood as they rolled up with their blankets, deck chairs picnic hampers and bottles of wine. Heartbreak Audiences are always ready to enjoy themselves whatever the weather, and generally come prepared for all eventualities. Newcastle audiences are invariably enthusiastic.
Heartbreak always have some kind of audience participation as part of their shows and this one was no exception. The audience were taught how to bow and courtesy in a manner appropriate to their station, and later they were on their feet, learning the rudiments of 19th Century dance moves!
Ably condensing this long novel into a two hour play is resident Heartbreak writer David Kerby-Kendall, and the directing honours fall this time, to Rebecca Gadsby, who brings the manners and mores of the society of the time to the forefront of her version of this well known love story.
Five daughters to marry off would be a challenge for any mother, but in 1813 it was a particularly onerous task, as there were few options for women besides marriage, and economic independence was a rare thing for a female. Marrying someone – anyone – was better than being a penniless spinster, and marrying someone rich and handsome was obviously the most desirable option of all. Elizabeth Bennett with her wit and intelligence is aware of this, but cannot bring herself to accept the unctuous Mr Collins, or even the far more desirable Mr Darcy (initially) as her pride and her prejudice prevent her from making that pragmatic choice. Happily as we all know, although the romance hits a few bumps in the road it finally sails into clear blue water – to mix a few journey metaphors.
Elizabeth Bennett is played with aplomb by Heartbreak favourite Abigail Castleton, who can be by turns, the rather gormless kitty and our spirited, intelligent heroine of heroines. Ben Thorne, last seen in the 2016 debut of the hilarious Murder on the Terrace as Inspector Back of the Yard, is the tall dark and handsome Mr Darcy who cuts a dash in his frock coat, and does get down to his shirt sleeves at one point. He has just the right air of arrogance, which becomes humility, as he falls against his better judgement, for the feisty Miss Bennett. Ben also plays the studious Mr Bennett, who extracts a continuing vein of humour from making cutting comments to his busy body of a wife, which tend to go well over her head.
Lauren Moakes is the beautiful Jane, Mr Darcy’s sister, and Elizabeth’s best friend Charlotte, another woman of sense forced to marry a man with none, because of economic circumstance. George Atwell is Mr Bingley, earnest, honest and uncomplicated. He is just never quite as interesting as the brooding Mr Darcy, but with £5000 a year, who cares! George is also Mr Collins the comedic vicar who entertains with his malapropisms and social climbing, whom Elizabeth rejects as part of her romantic journey. In addition, he takes the part Mr Whickham, the story’s resident cad and bounder, who is finally coerced into marriage with the vain sixteen year old Lydia, by Mr Darcy’s money.
Samantha Dart is lively and engaging as both the garrulous Mrs Bennet and the pompous Lady Catherine, and the show is all jolly good fun indeed. These characters are so familiar to us with their faux pas and their social dos and don’ts that we can relax as the story unfolds before us. Pride and Prejudice is so popular because it has a bit of everything and our audience loved it! It’s a great love story and a comedy of manners with plenty of protagonists thrown in. There are darker elements too. The threat of homelessness and poverty and the necessity of money are central to Lizzie’s world view, and underpinning it all is the fundamental disadvantage of the fairer sex, who nevertheless triumph with beauty, wit and spirit. At least in Pride and Prejudice they do!
The weather stayed dry for us on the opening night and a wonderful time was had by all, out in the fresh air enjoying delightful theatre with our friends and neighbours. Heartbreak cover an astonishing ninety venues in their tour around the country, and they will be back soon with three more brand new shows in the leafy surroundings of Jesmond Dene. Along with ice cream, sun and Al fresco dining, an evening with a Heartbreak show is a real summer treat! Check out www.heartbreakproductions.co.uk for further information about venues and tickets for 2018.