Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, the classic love story that has resonated for decades, is now being performed at Theatre Calgary. This adaptation, written by playwright Janet Munsil and directed by Dennis Garnhum, is a remarkable comedy of manners.
The recurring theme of this play focuses on the development of character and the issues young people face, such as social ranking, moral judgement, wealth and, of course, love. This makes the play appealing not just to die-hard Jane Austen fans or avid theatregoers — the major themes in the play are highly relatable to pretty much anyone, and especially to university students and young adults.
Pride and Prejudice is told through a third-person narrative, primarily from the perspective of Elizabeth Bennet. The play begins with a witty representation of the Bennet family’s life and the relationships between the five unmarried sisters and their parents. The calm, suave father and the perfect, matchmaking mother both play essential roles. The dynamics of the family and parental expectations create the main conflict of the play: How is a family with all-female children able to balance pragmatism and desire in a world where marriage is more of a political choice than a personal one?
The performance given by Terry Tweed was a highlight of the production — she steals the stage whenever present by playing two extremely contrasting characters. When Tweed first takes the stage, she embodies the regal and righteous character of the upper-class Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and then proceeds to portray the proud, high-energy working-class character Mrs. Reynolds. Tweed’s use of physicality while playing Mrs. Reynolds is convincingly spot-on, and the directorial choice of having Mrs. Reynolds become a hunched-over, nervously fidgeting woman in the presence of other characters was highly entertaining. Tweed’s performance, which contrasts a high-status lady with a low-status peasant, is flawless. Although Tweed is not a lead, her characters are incredibly important to the story, and are great attributes to the ensemble. In a crucial scene, Tweed stunningly captures the iron judgement of Lady Catherine, who disparages Elizabeth, demanding her to entertain with the piano and not leave the room.
Actress Shannon Taylor, another standout performer, perfectly portrays the head-strong and kind-natured Elizabeth, showing both the humility and humiliation of her moment at the piano.
The stationary set is quite simple and not really relevant to the action of the play. Perhaps this was a choice by set and costume designer Patrick Clark in order to put more of an emphasis on the extravagant and elaborate rotating set pieces. These pieces are very well done, incorporating a period bathtub, candles, Renaissance portraits and replicas of Chinese porcelain pieces. Gigantic paper lanterns that evolve from set pieces to props for the actors are also visually breathtaking.
The costumes are exquisite and accurately project the essence of the early 1800s, in which Pride and Prejudice is set. Clark cleverly uses Elizabeth’s attire to distinguish her important role in the play by altering her overcoat into more of a cropped modern look instead of a traditional long wool cloak. Also, Elizabeth’s dress is differentiated from her sisters’ attire with a modest red floral print.
The costumes help convey the clear distinction between the socio-economic standings of the female characters, with characters such as Mrs. Collins, Caroline Bingley and Lady Catherine dressed in more detailed and colourful garb, while the five Bennet sisters are strategically placed in simple regency-inspired floor-length dresses.
Theatre Calgary’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice is a hidden gem that many theatre fans may fail to discover. Instead of hitting up the regular coffee shop for your Saturday night date, take a trip to the theatre and experience the story’s metamorphosis from a beloved novel to a perfectly-executed drama.