Richard Croxford and Mark Dougherty’s take on one of the most well known and cherished novels in the English language is both ambitious and richly entertaining. And coming in at just over 3 hours in length, it’s a good thing too.
From the beginning right up to the final scene, the musical retains all of the drama and wit that made Austen’s novel so loved; but added to this is an element of originality and theatrical flare which engages the audience and adds to the enjoyment.
The highlights of the play are Hazel Gardiner and Gerard McDermott. Skilfully attentive to the complexities of their characters – Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy – they absolutely embrace their roles. The scenes where both characters are alone on stage are expertly dramatised, with the dialogue and stage direction used to make us feel the tension and the affection between our two protagonists.
Attending to the comic side of things is the marriage/dowry-obsessed, frivolously excitable, pantomime-esque Mrs. Bennet (Christina Nelson) who is partnered up with her sardonic, dry-witted husband Mr. Bennet (Ben Sleep) and his penchant for irony. Their relationship with each other and with their daughters blends together good old-fashioned laugh-out-loud comedy with clever, and sometimes damning, satire of British “high society”. Most of the actors play numerous roles (Richard Clements plays no less than four characters throughout the play – see if you can spot them all without turning to the programme) and gender-switching isn’t an issue for this versatile cast; showcasing just how funny a 19th century novel of manners truly can be.
And as it should be in any good musical, the story itself, as well as the action and the character’s development, are stimulated through the songs and through the composition of Mark Dougherty. We can by-pass the fact that the lyrics aren’t particularly inventive and at times tend to over-elaborate what is actually going on in the play, if we consider how well the music chimes with the choreography and the lighting. The behind-the-scenes team spared no expensive in filling up the stage. Often, multiple different stories would be unfolding on stage at the same time or the backdrop would change as characters perform meaning the action can run fluidly from scene to scene.
The multiple love-stories, the interweaving plots and sub-plots and, of course, the inevitable happy ending means that the novel lends perfectly to the theatre. It’s not an overly intellectual play by any means but nor does it pretend to be. Why should it? This musical doesn’t labour with the denser themes but redefines the story in its own way; the reward being that it makes it more accessible without trivialising it. And with that I can assure sceptical readers who (like myself) have no interest in a 19th century novel about mannerisms and high society that this musical is surprisingly agreeable and acts as a great start to the Autumn Season at the Lyric Theatre.
Check out the Lyric Theatre’s website to find out what else is happening this season: www.lyrictheatre.co.uk