Mr Bennet’s Bride – a prequel to Pride & Prejudice by Emma Wood
REVIEW by Meredith Fuller
A delightful period play from award winning director Susan Rundle, who has created a well balanced ensemble cast of ten and delivered her customary quality.
The play is set in 1780, 25 years prior to Austen’s Pride & Prejudice. In two acts, the action takes place at Longbourn, the home of the Bennet Family and at the home of Gardiner Family. We enter the old world of propriety and traditional values as an indolent son needs to be married or the Family estate may be forfeited to a cousin.
Do not yawn at the thought of a long period piece – it is anything but. This is visceral, engaging acting, visually sumptuous, and entertaining theatre for the entire performance.
Zandalee Clarke, who plays Emily Gardiner, is outstanding; she reminds me of a young Goldie Hawn. What a clever performance; I see a strong future for her. Her mother is played by Alison Campbell Rate; like ‘twins’, they are both enchanting together – deftly winning our hearts. Playing ‘silly and giggly’ women who affectionately capture the audience is actually very difficult – they both shone whether on stage individually or as foils together. Their characterizations were satisfying, cunning, and very funny.
Peter Hatherley has channelled Robert Bennet to perfection – surely the director has conjured him up from the 18th Century. He inhabits his patriarchal role beautifully with voice to match. I particularly enjoyed hearing him say ‘perfidy’.
Similarly, Reg Ellery as George Gardiner has a deft touch, and brings a subtle wry quality to his work.
James Littlewood as the young James Bennet gave a fine portrayal of a wooden fop with laconic youthfulness. As his relationships evolved, he allowed his character to morph into more complexity. The play begins with James, and ends with James…the circle he makes is sweet.
Simon Cooper played the dastardly cousin Benedict Collins, a fabulous role.
The pungent scenes between Hatherley and Cooper where they shape shifted into an obdurate turtle doing battle with an oily praying mantis were inspired and unforgettable.
While Cooper was impeccable in the embodiment of his character throughout the play, I would have like to see slightly less affectation; perhaps pulling back just a tad.
Linda Morgan as sensible Mary Ellingworth provided a solid anchor; I was convinced that I was observing my very proper but kind stepmother.
Mrs and Miss Bowman, and Mrs Graves were great supporting characters.
This is an amusing play that is also visually appealing. The set, sublime costumes, and colours immediately place us in the mood.
The set transformations were clever in their simplicity and execution by stage hands dressed in appropriate period costume.
Bravo to director, cast and crew!
15 February to 2nd March at Malvern Theatre 29 Burke Rd East Malvern Ticket Bookings 1300 131 552