Last night I was lucky enough to go -along with 599 other people !- to a open air performance of the Illyria Touring Company’s sold out adaptation of Pride and Prejudice at Belton House.

This was an absolute tour de force-a bravura performance by only 5 very accomplished actors, on a small stage, with few props-to wit, two wicker chests, a painted bench, two chairs, some extravagant quill pens, a picture fame and two coconut shells, a few simple stage lights and no amplification whatsoever.

The cast, cleverly,  were their own orchestra, “humming” the dance music for the Netherfield ball and Meryton Assembly scenes.

The play lasted about 3 hours with one 15 minute interval. Virtually no action in the book was missed. Some scenes were shortened or combined but it was amazing to think that this very clever adaptation managed to cram in so much of the novel as possible into the performance -something that much longer adaptations have failed to achieve!  The actors of course had to double, treble and quadruple -up the parts. For example, Andrew Lindfield who played Mr Darcy, seen here enduring Caroline Bingley’s attentions at Netherfield….

was also a very O.T.T. Wickham

being here admired by the Bennet sisters when meeting with Denny in Meryton…..

and was also Mary, in green, sermonizing as only Mary can

and Kitty-rather upset at not being allowed to go to Brighton

and also played a squirm inducing Mr Collins  (seen here proposing to an appalled Elizabeth).  It all sounds preposterous ( and the cast continue the jokes in the cast list in the programme) but it truly worked and the staging,  simple but effective, was cleverly put together for the best comic or dramatic effect. The rather “loud” costumes also worked very well: they enabled the audience to quickly and clearly identify the character,even if, as was sometimes the case, it had to be played by one or more actors. Clever conceit.

Miriam Jay Allwright was Elizabeth and a very voluble Mrs Hill, wearing a  massive mop cap which possessed  a life  and very nearly a part of its own.

She was wonderful as Elizabeth:  clever, witty ,wise and just the sort of Elizabeth Bennet you would  like to be your best friend.

Becky George as  Jane, Lydia,

seen above imagining a whole campful of soldiers-with the emphasis on camp!- and Charlotte Lucas was perfect. Here she is  having second thoughts- alas too late !-after marrying Mr Collins.

Her Mrs Reynolds (in yellow silk below) was a truly amazing characterisation, and  had a wonderfully brisk way of walking around all those long corridors in Pemberley House ( to enable Andrew Lindfield chance to metamorphize  from the  ever grinning Wickham…

into  the  lovely Darcy’s portrait  in Pemberley’s Long Gallery

Robert Took as Mr Bennet, Colonel Fitzwilliam, Mr Gardiner, Caroline Bingley, seen here below “reading” her farewell letter to Jane

was also a very grand and

formidable Lady Catherine(seen above with the veiled and silent,  but sneeze ridden Anne de Bourgh).He was fabulous. I must say  that when Caroline Bingley gives you instructions  as to where the refreshments and lavatories are, you certainly play attention!

Ruth Cataroche was a supremely silly  Mrs Bennet

(above,  flanked by Mr Bennet and Kitty)…

a marvellously  mustachioed Colonel Forster

a sweet Charles Bingley ( above in the pink hat, Darcy is in the yellow)  and one of the girls that Wickham fooled around with during the dramatisation of The Letter.

Her Mrs Bennet was actually given the scene where she is told by Elizabeth that she is going to marry Darcy.

This is one of my favourite parts of  the book, and is a scene so often (and inexplicably ) omitted from many dramatisations of the book. She was a fabulously tipsy Mrs Bennet at the Netherfield Ball, gossiping with Mrs Long…putting paid to the family succeeding in currying favour at that point with Mr Darcy.

The carriage rides on the suitably squeaky wicker trunks, were a highlight Mr Darcy performing on the coconut shells as a set of carriage horses was a touch of genius.

Here are the Gardiners and Elizabeth suitably impressed with their first sight of Pemberley House, in their “carriage” with “horses” attached.

The adaptation was witty and wise: it even included a slight reference to the lake at Pemberley being a good place in which to swim-to cheers from the knowledgeable  audience. The actors were fabulous hosts- mingling with  the crowd, partaking of our picnic fare, taking photos of us all and of some individuals who came in full Regency Dress, selling programmes and creating a great atmosphere. I particlary admired the way Elizabeth Bennet called us to order at the commencement of act two !

The adaptation was written by Oliver Grey  who also directed it. The company’s admirable  attitude toward the production is neatly summed up in this extract  from Neill Thew’s article in the programme,When is a Mouse not a Mouse ? (Answer,when she is Jane Austen):

Given Austen’s extreme sharpness of mind and eye: her unstinting judgements on human nature; and her impatience with puffed up airs and graces,then the current fashion for overly reverent stage and television adaptations of her work-all Empire-line dresses and tea parties – misses the heart of her completely. Austen is a much tougher and,  frankly, gloriously bitchier author than that. At is that Jane Austen whose observations a will be brought to life tonight.

I have to say that we were held spell-bound by the whole production  and were sad but elated when it ended.

(The reconstructed Darcy proposing for a second time)

Needless to say  I would go and see another  of their productions at the drop of a hat (even a bright yellow one). Their  Pride and Prejudice touring schedule can be found here If  this production of Pride and Prejudice is coming near to you  my advice is to GO TO IT! You will have one of the best, fun-filled evenings ever. Indeed ,they are soon to be performing this version of Pride and Prejudice  at Kedleston Hall and I’d love to see the Derbyshire scenes acted out in  the wonderful countryside setting of that famed Derbyshire home.( I’ll bet they will ad lib a little too!)

(The Happy Couple)