Audience in stitches from start to end

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Ella Horton as Elizabeth Bennet and Callum Wilson as Mr Darcy

Theatre / “Pride and Prejudice” by Budding Theatre, at Belconnen Theatre until June 22. Reviewed by SIMONE PENKETHMAN.

THERE is clearly a huge appetite for Pride and Prejudice in Canberra. All performances of this show were sold out prior to opening night so, what was to have been a media preview, turned into yet another sold out public show. In addition to the impressive audience uptake, there were nearly 40 players on stage. Such a huge ensemble would be cost prohibitive in professional theatre, but crowd pleasers with large casts are shows where community theatre can really show off its strengths.

Playwright and director, Kirsty Budding adapted her new version from Jane Austen’s novel. Budding strikes a good balance between scenes and dialogue lifted directly from the book, and well-researched invented scenes that both condense and deepen the narrative. The first half of the show, with well timed physical comedy, and four dance numbers made for lively theatre. The opening scene was a sermon to young women, referenced in the book and researched by Budding. The audience was its unwitting congregation, while the younger Bennet sisters and their mother provided a hilarious counterpoint from the back pews. The laugh-out-loud moments came fast and thick.

Casting of the Bennet sisters is crucial and in this case it was spot on. The two elder Bennet sisters, Jane and Elizabeth (Caitlin Dalgliesh and Ella Horton) are tall and gracious compared to their fun loving, pocket-rocket little sisters. Lydia and Kitty (Tabitha Lee and Breanna Kelly) provided plenty of comedy and energy to the first half of the play where their roles are more prominent. The awkward middle child, Mary (Matilda Saddington) was a standout in both writing and performance with quite a contemporary interpretation of the character. Given more focus than usual, Mary was not so much unintelligent as non-neurotypical.

Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy appeared younger than we normally see them. This was interesting in that it softened the power imbalance between them and the Bennet sisters. There was an element of youthful thoughtlessness and inexperience to Mr Darcy’s (Callum Wilson) taciturn early scenes. Rob Shiells gave an assured performance as Mr Bingley, his youth adding to the playfully sweet, romantic chemistry with Jane Bennet

The second half of the show was far more dialogue driven than the first. While there was plenty of comedy in the script, it lacked some of the energy and momentum of the first half. Costuming the huge cast in full Regency period was a huge task that was well carried out. However, more attention could have been paid to set design and lighting (there is no set or lighting designer mentioned in the program). Different levels on stage and more options for entries and exits may have helped to liven the more wordy second half. Helen Way’s piano and flute compositions woven throughout the show were thoughtful and supportive. The audience was laughing along until the end.

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