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Austen adaptation in need of the grotesque

PUBLISHED: 17:15 25 November 2009 | UPDATED: 17:28 16 August 2010

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JANE Austen s well-loved novel Pride and Prejudice was brought to life at Erith Playhouse recently in a heavily truncated stage adaptation by James Liggatt and Robert Sheaf, writes Mark Campbell. Taking this intricately written work and turning it into a

JANE Austen's well-loved novel Pride and Prejudice was brought to life at Erith Playhouse recently in a heavily truncated stage adaptation by James Liggatt and Robert Sheaf, writes Mark Campbell.

Taking this intricately written work and turning it into a stage play of just two hours' duration is a pretty tall order, and it was no surprise to find that much of the complex character inter-relation had been sacrificed. In this version - directed by Playhouse newcomer Wendy Reynolds - the Bennet sisters were reduced from five to three. And the various locations in the book were pared down to just two rooms (thanks to an ingenious swing set) and the suggestion of a ballroom.

In general, the cast played their parts well and there were a couple of stand-out performances.

Toby Masson made an aptly supercilious Mr Darcy, holding himself in a variety of artful poses as he disdainfully looked down upon others.

Leigh McCarthy was Elizabeth Bennet (the "heroin", according to the programme notes!) who at first despises him and then finds herself strangely attracted to his hidden charms.

Both were very good at portraying a slowly burgeoning romance. Although hampered by poor 'first impressions' (the novel's original title), Elizabeth's strength of character ultimately has her finding the real man beneath the airs and graces.

Lauren Bulling was excellent as the ever-optimistic Jane Bennet, the eldest sister who eventually marries Mr Bingley, played with quiet charm by Tiarnan Magill.

Jennifer Diamond as the youngest sister Lydia brought enormous energy to the role, as did Kirsty Duncombe as Elizabeth's best friend Charlotte.

But the most energetic was Peter Sapi as the comic clergyman Mr Collins. A figure of fun, Sapi's exaggerated hand waving and archly camp delivery proved extremely popular with the audience.

A shame, then, that Nigel Taylor and Shelley Peters didn't make more of the comic potential in their roles. True, Taylor delivered some of his bons mots with élan, but Mr and Mrs Bennet are such caricatures that it seemed to me a shame they were not acted with more grotesque relish.

Matt Clowry played Mr Wickham as a charmless and unpleasant individual, making it difficult to see why Lydia would want to elope with him. Similarly unpleasant was Liz Tyndall as Darcy's formidable aunt Lady Catherine de Burgh, although here at least the part demanded it.

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