Two casts, one play and a lot of ‘Pride’ for Kirsty

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The Lizzies… Lydia Milosavljevic, left, as Elizabeth Bennet in the youth cast and Ella Horton as Elizabeth in the adult cast.

WHEN Canberra Theatre director Kirsty Budding announced auditions for her adaptation of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”, more than 80 young people turned up to try out.

Originally conceived as an adult production with about three kids in it, Budding tells “CityNews” there was such a high standard that she decided to go with two separate productions, performed back to back.

“It looked as if I had to choose, but it also meant that, to be fair, I’d need to have made the Bennet sisters teenagers, not young adults,” she says.

It sounds like a logical nightmare and Budding has been rehearsing both casts separately, the younger cast from 6pm to 8pm and the adult cast from 8pm to 10pm, but it’s had its advantages, since if somebody is ill, there’s always a fill-in standing by.

“It’s been a huge effort because of the double casting,” she says.

“The way it will work is that there’ll be the young people’s version at 6pm and the adult production at 8pm, with a 30-minute turnaround in between.”

The Bennet family in the adult cast. Photo: Greg Gould

And somehow she’s managed to get the whole of “Pride and Prejudice” down to 90 minutes.

The only really big logistical problem for Budding has been in costumes, because this is a fully-dressed production set during Regency England. She went to various sources – John and Aylwen Gardiner of Canberra business Earthly Delights, local theatre groups and her own pocket. Local sources were augmented by having costumes made around England, posted to her mum, who lives there, then getting mum to post them here. Phew.

They’re staging it at Belconnen Theatre, which has substantial dressing room space.

So how hard was it for Budding to adapt “Pride and Prejudice”?

“My guiding principle was always to be faithful to Jane Austen’s iconic lines,” she says.

“Especially the lines said between Mr Darcy and Elizabeth – I really kept all the important parts.

“Cutting the novel down to 90 minutes was a challenge, but what I did was to put together some events, for instance, we meet the reverend Mr Collins and Mr Wickham with the army officers in the same scene. That creates comedic opportunities as we see the conflict of values.”

Not just that, she’s cast Canberra street magician and comedian Daniel Evans to play the womaniser Wickham, adding to the amusement when he does magic tricks with swords to impress the ladies.

Ella Horton as Elizabeth Bennet and Callum Wilson as Mr Darcy in the adult cast. Photo: Greg Gould

Regarding Austen’s famous satire, apart from the embarrassing Mrs Bennet and the stuffy Mr Collins, her favourite is Caroline Bingley, Mr Bingley’s sister.

“Here we see Jane Austen‘s satirical skill as she sends up aristocratic people and their contempt for anybody who is in ‘trade’,” she says.

As for the romantic side, it’s there in spades. The famous scenes between Mr Darcy and Elizabeth are all retained. Their first dance has allowed her to stage a Regency dance, with historical dance and period music played live with a grand piano and cello.

“Then there’s the famous first proposal, full of sexual tension, and later the final proposal by Mr Darcy – beautiful and romantic,” Budding says.

“Pride and Prejudice,” at Belconnen Theatre, adult cast, 8pm, June 18-22, youth cast, 6pm, June 19-22, bookings to buddingtheatre.com

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