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Review: Pride and Prejudice at the Birmingham Rep

Jane Austen’s 1813 Pride and Prejudice is perhaps the most perfect novel in the English language.

To those unfamiliar with this story of the search for husbands by five unmarried sisters while hampered by a silly, light-headed mother and a distant, stand-offish father it might sound like a recipe for classic Mills and Boon. But because of the delightful vividness of its characterisation it is always fresh as if written tomorrow, and there is a terrible sting in its tail.

Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice

Because narrator Elizabeth Bennett is so droll and intelligent that we identify with all her observations until something truly terrible happens – she discovers she is wrong. And because of that, dear reader, we discover we have been too, and now realise her mistaken view of the world is also ours, so we identify with her perhaps more completely than with any other character in fiction.

This lovely staging by Deborah Bruce of Simon Reade’s adaptation, on all week at the Rep, was packed to the gunwales – it’s quite rightly always a set book – so order tickets immediately I would say, but if you’re not lucky enough to get a seat, I’ll just tell you some of its highlights. First Max Jones’ wonderful revolving set works for everything from a walk in the wilderness garden to a large-scale county ball. Tina MacHugh’s state of the art lighting and Lillian Henley’s incidental music add atmosphere and charm, but it’s the casting that makes this a luxurious Rolls Royce of a production.

Tafline Steen is wonderful as the feisty, strong-minded and ironical Elizabeth Bennett whose presumptions are here so satisfyingly confounded by Benjamin Dilloway’s Mr Darcy, the great dark man of legend.

Felicity Montagu’s Mrs Bennett is a text-book rendering of this classic comic role, while Steven Meo is unforgettable as unsuitable suitor the earnest-but-infuriatingly-dull parson Mr Collins – Francesca Bailey radiates the necessary composure as his bride Charlotte Lucas.

Dona Croll delightfully radiates haughty superiority as Lady Catherine de Burgh, and finally there’s the versatile Matthew Kelly as the distant father Mr Bennett who in this version turns out to have been disappointed himself in his choice of life-partner, explaining one of the great mysteries of fictional characterisation. Here dear Matthew manages to make this unattractive, ironically magisterial figure real flesh and blood in a performance of genuine freshness that proves, as always with him, what a real stage star looks like.

Pride and Prejudice runs until November 12. For tickets phone the Box Office 0n 0121 236 4455.

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