Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Pride and Prejudice by Heartbreak Productions review

On Sunday evening, I was invited by Heartbreak Productions to see a theatrical performance of ‘Pride and Prejudice’, and it has been easy for me to post this glowing review, since it was a brilliant production!

The company is currently touring the country, but I was fortunate to watch them at beautiful Hatchlands Park, a National Trust house near Guildford. This was an open air production, and we were lucky, for despite the gloomy weather forecast, we escaped with just one shower!

The 5 cast members play 16 different characters, and yet they successfully managed to differentiate between them so expertly, that I almost expected more people to come on stage at the end to take the applause! Every single cast member is a real credit to the company.

Particular highlights for me were the portrayal of Mr Collins, and the relationships between Mr and Mrs Bennet, and between Lydia and Kitty, which managed to be a suitable contrast to the characterisations of Jane and Lizzy Bennet! As well as being able to deliver the comedy elements, much to the huge enjoyment of the audience, I was pleased that they were able to portray the serious and emotional scenes in a touching way too. From my previous experience of other productions, I had noticed that some are more confident with the humour, and less with the pathos, or vice versa, but there were no weak links in this cast and I found it a well balanced adaptation.

Being an open air theatre, the staging was very simple, however the backdrop and location were so gorgeous, it worked well, and anyway, Jane Austen’s words speak for themselves and don't need fancy scenery! The costumes worked suitably well too, with small and clever changes to signify a change in character.

I have already mentioned the humorous portrayal of some of the most amusing personalities, however the comedy was great throughout. In some adaptations, I feel the comic side of Jane Austen’s work has been toned down or even left out altogether, and I have never understood this, as I find so much in her works that is funny! But I’m glad to report that this wasn’t the case with Heartbreak; they presented and celebrated her wonderful wit in their production!

In order to condense the story into two hours, it is inevitable that scenes in the book must be cut or moved around, but Heartbreak’s interpretation was artistically well managed and gave us a coherent story. I was delighted that some accurate dialogue and passages from the book were included, especially some of the great exchanges between Darcy and Lizzy when they are engaged. These are often cut. In fact, I think this was generally one of the more faithful representations I have seen on stage, and the story did not seem rushed.

However, what struck me the most about this excellent production was it’s inclusivity. The atmosphere was relaxed, with the cast welcoming us all and putting everyone at ease. I was impressed that they mingled with the audience, chatting to people as they settled before the performance, and again during the interval. This was a new idea to me, but I enjoyed the interaction. Some audience participation was also included in the performance, plus there were opportunities for people to have some fun trying on Regency bonnets and clothing. The whole event felt very inclusive, as if we were all participating in the evening, and they created a relaxed atmosphere which I feel would have been enjoyable and accessible to all ages.

I attended the performance with one of my oldest friends, who happens to be a complete Austen novice! So by way of interesting comparison, here is what she had to say about the production (- I think we may have a convert!).

Becky writes:-

“Although I have lived in England my entire life (27 years), I have somehow, but completely unintentionally, managed to avoid anything ‘Jane Austen’. Never have I seen a film, read a book or encountered a theatre event. I was invited to see this production by my self-proclaimed ‘Janeite’ friend Sophie Andrews, aka Laughing with Lizzie, and I leapt at the opportunity.

I had yet to see the appeal of Jane Austen or really understand the concept behind her novels. So my very first experience was Sunday evening at Heartbreak Productions’ rendition of ‘Pride and Prejudice’, and let me tell you, I was not disappointed.

I arrived at Hatchlands Park to a small outdoor stage, and as a lover of outdoor cinema, this made me very excited.

I was looking forward to seeing how the logistics of such a small cast worked, but I was unsure if I would follow the storyline, given that I did not know any of the characters or even the plot. This was not the case, thanks to the fantastic acting I witnessed throughout the performance. I am fairly confident that even without the minor costume changes that signified the changes in character, I would still have been able to distinguish which character the actor or actress was playing. In fact, I was really impressed by the simplistic costume changes, as they seemed to make it easier for us, the audience, to concentrate on the show. It seemed to streamline the whole process.

Moreover, I was impressed with the simplicity throughout; the set, the costumes, the audience interaction. The whole evening was thoroughly enjoyable and I must say I now look forward to experiencing some more Jane Austen, and hopefully some of Heartbreak Productions’ future presentations too!”
Rebecca Cook

In summary:-
I have seen many many productions of Austen on stage, and ‘Pride and Prejudice’ more than any other, but I can say that this was one of the very best I have seen and definitely one of my personal favourites. Congratulations to Heartbreak for an excellent adaptation, a seamless performance, and overall an atmospheric and most enjoyable evening. I look forward to other productions by Heartbreak - even better if it is another Jane Austen!

I can highly recommend checking out Heartbreak’s touring schedule, to see if they are playing somewhere near you, as I’m confident you won’t be disappointed!