Heartbreak Production’s version of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice made for a delightful evening in Jesmond Dene at the weekend with likeminded folk and a Prosecco picnic to hand. The framing device which introduces the play this time, saw us all admitted to the Academy of Higher Etiquette and Manners – Ahem! – for short. Peter from Morpeth was brought on stage from the audience to learn the ways of the horse, and one gentleman had his walk examined and was counselled to try ‘a little less swinging of the arms.’
Peter from Morpeth saddles up
Wilberforce from Ahem, specialised in the partaking of food and drink and offered to taste everyone’s wine (no one offered) and Hermione’s expertise was the art of approaching the opposite sex and love. Women must be all delicacy and refinement while men must be all masculinity and reason. Tarquin implored us all to silence our modern communications devices as they would be very vexing if they went off ‘I don’t see what’s wrong with a good letter!’ he exclaimed.
Tarquin talks the talk
‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.’ So begins Jane Austen’s most famous novel and the merry go round that is the catching of a suitable husband begins. No pre-nups in those days, but then no one really got divorced either. You married someone and you were stuck with them! Jane Austen herself, while delighting in the complications and intrigue of the courtship and marriage game, arguably had the good sense not to bother with the institution herself.
Life’s a ball for the Bennet girls
Each of the five very talented actors played several parts. With just a change of jacket or the addition of a shawl, a squint, a stoop, some glasses or a bonnet they ably conveyed the change of character and there was never any confusion as to who they were. It was all very accomplished and quite seamless. Although some girls behind me were sniggering at Colonel Fitzwilliam’s Irish accent I found it perfectly acceptable and their behaviour was not in line with the best of etiquette. I think they were a bit tipsy mind you. We enjoyed a very middle class picnic of Sushi, Prosecco and champagne truffles in line with our social status but I did see a few sausage rolls and pork pies being eaten by certain sections of the audience.
A very middle class picnic
Jack Fairley played Tarquin, Mr Darcy and Mr Bennet. Mr Bennet’s dry comments aimed at his entirely oblivious and rather silly wife is one of the wellsprings of the very best humour in the book and here in the play also. As Mr Darcy he is tall and dashing and does take his shirt off at one point (this does sway the lady’s opinion somewhat) but he was a lot more fun as the hen pecked Mr Bennet.
Mr Darcy gets his kit off!
The three girls play four of the Bennet daughters (Mary never actually appears as she is always studying) Mrs Bennet, Charlotte, Lizzie’s best friend, Darcy’s sister, Bingley’s sister and Lady Catherine De Burgh between them. Phillipa Flynn – who I remembered as Juliet from Romeo and Juliet last year – plays Eliza Bennet with suitable intelligence, misappropriated pride and outrage. When she overhears Mr Darcy saying about her that ‘Elizabeth is tolerable but not handsome enough to tempt me.’ She takes a violent dislike to him (as you might expect) and when asked if she will accept him for a dance with she replies ‘I would rather set fire to my petticoats while I was wearing them!’ She is a spirited girl with a mind of her own and she is very funny when the hapless Mr Collins proposes to her as he is a need of a wife. One imagines a modern refusal would be far less subtle.
Don’t come any closer!
Max Attard played Wilberforce, Bingley, Wickham, Collins. Col. Fitzwilliam and Winstanley the servant. He was kept very busy in the jacket changing department but he was a joy as the obsequious Collins with his malapropisms and rather camp mannerisms. A highly amusing contrast to the 100% male of the largely monosyllabic Mr Darcy.
Lydia weds the wicked Whickham
The programme doubled as a real fan for interval tutelage in the language of the fan, and there were a number of helpful pointers so you could tell whether you were indeed a character in a Jane Austen novel. Here are a few.
Someone disagreeable is trying to persuade you to take a trip to Bath.
A picnic has gone horribly wrong.
You have five hundred a year. From who? Five hundred what? No one knows. No one cares but you have it anyway!
You are in a garden and you are astonished.
All of your dresses look like nightgowns.
Do any of these apply to you?
The Odd Couple
Pride and Prejudice uses society’s obsessions with money and social status to make fun of the characters but always with a sure and light touch and this is very much maintained in this adaptation. We enjoyed the performance of Pride and Prejudice hugely and left half a Spanish flan and some truffles for the hard working actors on the stage as we left, as is the Heartbreak Tradition Pride and Prejudice is still touring. The Heartbreak cast are at South Shields next week and then they will be taking the carriages visiting to Sheffield and Leeds, so check out the website for venues. Heartbreak Productions