Thursday 21st November to Saturday 23rd November, then Wednesday 27th November to Saturday 30th November 2019
Directed by Fiona Fairhurst
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.
Bench Theatre brings one of the world's best-loved novels to the stage in a captivating adaptation of Austen's most famous work.
Elizabeth Bennet, beautiful, intelligent and strong-willed, is determined to remove herself from the matchmaking schemes of her mother. Mr Darcy, rich, educated and privileged, has no intention of marrying anyone beneath his station. Join everybody's favourite couple as they navigate the world of courtship, discovering that first impressions are not always correct.
This light and sparkling comedy, beautifully and faithfully adapted by Simon Reade, has all of Austen's warmth, wit and romance, perfect for the winter months.
Jane Austen was born at the Rectory in Steventon, a little village in north-east Hampshire, on 16th December 1775. She was the seventh child and second daughter of the rector, the Revd. George Austen, and his wife Cassandra Leigh. Of her brothers, two were clergymen, one inherited rich estates in Kent and Hampshire from a distant cousin and the two youngest became Admirals in the Royal Navy; her only sister, like Jane herself, never married.
Steventon Rectory was Jane Austen's home for the first 25 years of her life. From here she travelled to Kent to stay with her brother Edward in his mansion at Godmersham Park near Canterbury, and she also had some shorter holidays in Bath, where her aunt and uncle lived. During the 1790s she wrote the first drafts of Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Northanger Abbey; her trips to Kent and Bath gave her the local colour for the settings of these last two books.
In 1801 the Revd. George Austen retired, and he and his wife, with their two daughters Jane and Cassandra, left Steventon and settled in Bath.
The Austens rented No. 4 Sydney Place from 1801-1804, and then stayed for a few months at No. 3 Green Park Buildings East, where Mr Austen died in 1805. While the Austens were based in Bath, they went on holidays to seaside resorts in the West Country, including Lyme Regis in Dorset - this gave Jane the background for Persuasion.
In 1806 Mrs Austen and her daughters moved to Southampton, and then in 1809 to Chawton, where they had a cottage on one of Edward's Hampshire estates. Here Jane was at leisure to devote herself to writing, and between 1810-1817 she revised her three early novels and also composed another three - Mansfield Park, Emma, and Persuasion.
Jane fell ill in 1816 - possibly with Addison's Disease - and in the summer of 1817 her family took her to Winchester for medical treatment. However, the doctor could do nothing for her, and she died peacefully on 18th July 1817 at their lodgings in No. 8 College Street.
She was buried a few days later in the north aisle of Winchester Cathedral. Jane's novels reflect the world of the English country gentry of the period, as she herself had experienced it. Due to the timeless appeal of her amusing plots, and the wit and irony of her style, her works have never been out of print since they were first published, and are frequently adapted for stage, screen and television. Jane Austen is now one of the best-known and best-loved authors in the English-speaking world.
This play was staged at The Spring Arts and Heritage Centre (formerly Havant Arts Centre), East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.
|Mrs Bennet||Sally Hartley|
|Mr Bennet||Roger Wallsgrove|
|Mr Collins||Mark Wakeman|
|Charlotte Lucas||Zoe Chapman|
|Sir William Lucas||David Booth|
|Mr Darcy||Stuart Reilly|
|Mr Bingley||Thomas Hall|
|Caroline Bingley||Robin Hall|
|Mr Wickham||Zack Cuthbertson|
|Lady Catherine||Sarah Ash|
|Mrs Gardiner||Janice Halsey|
|Assistant Producer||Alan Welton|
|Stage Manager||Paul Millington|
|Assistant Stage Manager||Jeff Bone|
|Lighting Design||Thomas Hall|
|Sound Design||Howard Alston|
|Lighting Operation||Jack Durham|
|Sound Operation||Alan Welton|
|Costumes||Sarah Ash and Cast|
|Set Design||Pete Woodward|
|Set Construction||Julie Wood-Burt and members of the company|
|Handbill Design||Dan Finch|
|Programme Editor||Derek Callam|
|Front of House||Zoe Chapman|
I've loved Jane Austen ever since I was a little girl constantly raiding my parents' library. In a world of Hornblower, Holmes, King Arthur and Sharpe, here were books where women, where daughters, took centre stage. Not in a hysterical 'Wuthering Heights' fashion, but in an intelligent, eloquent and remarkably relatable way. Many of Austen's women (particularly our favourites) were strong-willed, opinionated and obstreperous, even in a world which glorified the demure, passive woman. How could I not love them?
Austen is often dismissed as romance stories for girls, but this belies how radical and remarkable her female characters were. And it's not just Austen's women who defy their social conventions. Mr Bennet, one of literatures best-loved grumpy old men, refuses to allow his daughter to marry for anything less than happiness despite the precarious financial situation of the family. Austen's characters aren't just daring, they are also timeless. Who doesn't know a Lydia or a Lady Catherine, and who among us hasn't had their hearts broken by a Willoughby or a Wickham? Who hasn't seen themselves in every one of the Bennet sisters at one point or another or fancied themselves as a Mr Darcy (while secretly hoping they don't turn into a Mr Collins!).
All this makes putting on a production of Pride and Prejudice both exhilarating and utterly terrifying. Could we do the novel and Simon Reade's wonderful script justice, and could I possibly find actors to live up to the characters I've carried in my head for decades?
It turns out I needn't have worried.
I defy you to find a more perfect Mr & Mrs Bennet than Sally and Roger. Austen's Mr Collins is funny enough, but Wakeman's Mr Collins takes him to a whole new level of comedy. Lady Catherine is perfect. When she says she will not be interrupted, my goodness, you believe her! And 'I must throw in a good word for my Lizzy'. Beth is one of the few people in the world who I could happily watch as one of my favourite characters of all time without me wanting to shove her aside and steal the part myself. She is everything I wanted in my Elizabeth Bennet. In fact, I have never directed a show in which I have had to do so little direction. My expectations and wishes were high: every person on the stage has exceeded them.
There is, as always, a multitude of people to thank for making the show what it is, and I'll have to save most for the after-show party. Who knew Lady Catherine was an expert seamstress or that Mr Bingley was a lighting extraordinaire? Jasper, Alan and Mark have been my stalwart advisers when I couldn't bear to watch another Regency dance descend into general chaos or work out how to fit Pemberley on our little stage. It has been a joy to work with all of them – something I am beginning to suspect is normal with Bench.
In recent weeks, life hasn't been quite as kind to my family as I could have wished. But even on the worst days, when I struggled to raise a smile, watching this wonderful cast perform this brilliant play made me laugh out-loud time and time again. I hope it brings you the same joy. No matter how dark or miserable the winter nights are, I am confident that Austen's characters, Simon Reade's adaption and the cast's brilliance will brighten them up for you.
Bench Theatre's autumn offering at The Spring is Simon Reade's adaptation of the gorgeous Pride and Prejudice. It's a fine adaptation of the lengthy novel, touching base with Austen's original exactly where it should and what is left out isn't missed at all. The principal cast, too, are uniformly good with some stand-out work in some of the central performances and a superb cameo.
Let's start with the cameo. Jo Langfield as wayward sister Lydia is a joy; a perfect example of there being no such thing as a small part. Langfield is natural (not easy when you're fighting that Regency dialogue) and funny and cheeky and just very good. Sarah Parnell dances dangerously along the edge of the pantomime-baddy cliff as Lady de Bourgh, but those who know her work know she's never in any danger of flinging herself over the edge. Likewise, Sally Hartley's Mrs Bennet could become parody but never does – and her comic timing is a joy to behold. While we're on the comic timing, I have just two words to say: Mark Wakeman. Sublime.
As the focus of the piece, Beth Evans gives us exactly the Lizzy we want and Stuart Reilly once again demonstrates the fact that he's one of the company's finest actors with a truthful, nicely observed, performance as Darcy.
Where the production falls down is in the crowd scenes; the dance-sequences in particular reek of under-rehearsal and one can't help but feel that the cast aren't enjoying themselves. The energy-levels fall off dangerously here.
Act one is over long (the fault of the script) but act two moves along nicely.