Theatre Review: Pride and Prejudice at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Elizabeth and Darcy
David Oakes and Jennifer Kirby as Mr Darcy and Elizabeth. Photo: Johan Persson

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Pride and Prejudice is my favourite novel of all time. Celebrating the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice, the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre has adapted Jane Austen’s classic novel for the stage. Luckily, I was able to see a matinée performance on 18 July. The weather was great, which is always an added bonus in an outdoor theatre!

The Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre is a beautiful setting for Pride and Prejudice. The production is visually stunning, with its elegant dresses and dancing. There is a grand piano on the lawn and Regency dresses hang in the trees near the stage. The two-tier revolving set is genius as it allows the locations to change quickly. The wrought-iron gates on stage actually reminded me of the Regent’s Park gates. The play begins with Mrs Bennet proclaiming the famous opening lines of the novel. Mrs Bennet quite rightly frets about the issue of the entail à la Downton Abbey. She is determined to marry off her five daughters.

I thought the cast was well-chosen, especially all the members of the Bennet family. Yolanda Kettle’s Jane is portrayed and cast exactly as I imagined her to be: sweet, kind and with a gentle disposition. Rob Heaps’s Charles Bingley is enthusiastic and jovial. Bingley jokes that if Darcy were not such a “great, tall fellow”, he would not pay him half so much deference. Ha!

Highlights included Ed Birch as Mr Collins and his uncanny ability to be awkward, ingratiating and funny at the same time. An example of this was when he tried to join in a group dance at the ball on his own. There was also a superb performance from Leah Brotherhead as Mary. I am now convinced that Mr Collins and Mary would have made a great couple! Then again, Mr Collins made clear he was glad not to have married into the family after Lydiagate. As a fan of the novel, there was one thing which surprised me, though. In this adaptation, it is Mrs Bennet who tells Mary to stop singing and playing the piano at the Netherfield Ball, and not Mr Bennet.

I have to mention Elizabeth and Darcy, of course. Jennifer Kirby is great as a spirited and independent Elizabeth. Likewise, David Oakes is deliciously aloof and proud as Mr Darcy. Saying that, Darcy’s “It is in vain that I have struggled…” speech seemed to appear out of the blue. The running time of the play is two hours and forty-five minutes so I guess it’s difficult to convey the gradual turning point in Lizzy and Darcy’s relationship. The play moved along at a good pace, though.

Other memorable moments included the Bennet sisters on the staircase listening in on Mr Collins’s proposal to Elizabeth. I particularly liked the scene when Lizzy and her aunt visit Pemberley. A number of the actors pose as portraits, and Lizzy intently studies Mr Darcy. There was also a nice twist at the end. Overall, a charming adaptation.

My rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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