Pride and Prejudice, Athenaeum Limelight Players at Warminster Athenaeum

IT is a truth universally acknowledged … One of the most famous opening lines in literature sets the tone for Jane Austen’s best loved and most frequently adapted novel, Pride and Prejudice.

In a couple of lines of elegant, witty prose, Austen captures her themes of young men with money and time on their hands and poor but well-educated young women looking for husbands.

What is a man to do when his estate is entailed to a distant male cousin, he has five unmarried daughters and a wife with social ambitions and no common sense?

First time director Heather Durbin makes an impressive debut in this excellent show, supported by her experienced collaborator, producer Adela Forestier-Walker. The two, both lifelong fans of Jane Austen, have adapted the novel with care, style and a real dedication to the spirit of the original. Their use of letters – the writer on one side of the stage and the recipient on the other – was a useful device that moved the action on seamlessly, and particularly effective in the epilogue.

They are well served by a talented cast led by Zoe Bartlett as the witty, vivacious, intelligent and independent Lizzie Bennet, and ALP chairman Jonathan Saunt-Lord (last year’s rambunctious Petruchio) as the haughty Fitzwilliam Darcy whose generous nature is gradually revealed to the shocked Lizzie.

Robert Lewis strikes just the right ironic tone as the put-upon Mr Bennet and Lisa Crow is point perfect as Mrs Bennet – as silly as she is kind, beset with nerves, vain, shallow and worried (with good reason) about the prospects for her large brood.

Alicia Pearce has the exact blend of prettiness and modesty needed for Jane – who could blame Darcy if he did not see the real feelings beneath the poised calm? Chloe Charlwood makes the most of plain pompous Mary, and Rose Egglinton is a suitably giggly Kitty.

Jessica Day is the flirtatious, naive, cocky Lydia, doomed to penury, a loveless marriage and dependence on kind older sisters and their wealthy husbands. She is well-matched with the plausible, Jack-the-lad Wickham of Ryan Widdows.

Jackie Brown is the appallingly snobbish Caroline Bingley, brittle, sophisticated, and bristling with jealousy. Olivia Cooper is the ultra rational Charlotte Lucas, who settles for marriage and the status it bestows on a not wealthy, not beautiful and not very young woman.

Judith Green is the ghastly Lady Catherine de Burgh – particularly effective in the famous scene when she challenges Lizzie over the (im)possibility of her marrying Darcy.

Andrew Matson makes the most of one of Austen’s great comic creations, the odious Mr Collins – his wooing of Lizzie is cringe-making and the craven deference to his lofty patron is laugh-out-loud funny. If this was a panto we would surely be booing him!

Heather Durbin is a skilled choreographer and it was good to see the variety of period dances interwoven into the story.

Overall this is a lovely show and a worthy celebration of Jane Austen’s legacy of wit and romance, 200 years after her death.


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