RDC students unveil Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

It’s never an easy feat to tackle one of literature’s best-loved works that’s been transformed into a theatrical production, but Red Deer College theatre students have done an admirable job with Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.

Feelings run deep about this work – a kind of timeless gem of elegance that purists will defend staunchly. The brilliant book captures it all – love, romance, sorrow, misunderstanding, family tensions – you name it. Austen’s ability to pen such works that tap into such universal themes doubtlessly fuels her enduring popularity to this day.

The original version of the novel was written in 1796-1797 under the title First Impressions.

In this show, instructors wisely chose a script penned by Jon Jory, who has done an amazing job of maintaining the heart of the book within a story for the stage. Virtually all of the lines spoken by the students come directly from the novel – which adds considerable clout to an already well-crafted show wonderfully directed by Lynda Adams.

First published in 1813, Pride and Prejudice has consistently been noted as Austen’s most popular novel, according to Pemberley.com. “It portrays life in the genteel rural society of the day, and tells of the initial misunderstandings and later mutual enlightenment between Elizabeth Bennet and the haughty Darcy. The title Pride and Prejudice refers (among other things) to the ways in which Elizabeth and Darcy first view each other.”

Kassidee Campbell has plenty on her shoulders as the story’s central character, Elizabeth Bennet. I’m happy to say she manages to capture Elizabeth’s forthrightness, boldness and strength of character.

Lizzy is a loyal friend and sister, but she’s not about to bend to society’s rigid rules. In that day, women had few choices – there was virtually nothing in the way of careers, and marriage was pretty much the only option to guarantee any kind of security – love or no love. Lizzy hangs onto her belief that marrying for money is simply not worth it – no matter the cost. Campbell really nails all of the nuances of the delightful character of Lizzy, from skeptical and brash to tender and affectionate.

As Darcy, it’s tough to think of a better fit than Nate Rehman.

He’s stoic, guarded, seemingly rigid and utterly no-nonsense – everything we think of when we consider the character of Darcy. His face pretty much says it all – but it’s terrific to see the subtle shifts in his character as the story moves along. Rehman captures Darcy’s struggle to come to terms with his intensifying feelings for Lizzy as the story unfolds.

There is also an abundance of talent within the supporting cast as well.

Rina Pelletier is absolute dynamite as Mrs. Bennet – thoroughly hilarious as the woman bent on marrying off her daughters as fast as she can.

Pelletier is fantastic as the larger than life character – mercurial, comical and conveying unbridled emotion at every turn – a truly remarkable performance. Richie Jackson is just as strong in his role as her long-suffering, essentially calm and cool husband. A great foil to his wife’s tendency towards hysteria, Mr. Bennet is in ways a real rock in the story, and Jackson conveys that stability very well.

Other standouts include Damon Lutz as Mr. Bingley – with his seemingly unending optimism and spirited personality. As Lizzy’s eldest sister Jane, Pharaoh Seeley has also been perfectly cast. Jane is sweet as pie – honest, pure and unfailingly committed to seeing the best in everyone. Seeley captures that loveliness with a real sense of authenticity as well.

With less stage time, the other actors nonetheless do well in their roles – Emily Cupples as the bookish Mary and also as Lizzy’s friend Charlotte; Robyn Jeffrey as Kitty Bennet and the housekeeper, and Michael Moore as the enigmatic Mr. Wickham.

Emily Seymour, as the flippant, silly younger sister Lydia, is also superb – particularly in the second half as her thoughtless giddiness really comes to light.

Seymour virtually steals every scene she’s in at this point, and also Brock Beal is terrific as Collins – the beleaguered parson who is just trying to find a match.

He also doubles as Mr. Gardiner – and that’s where much of his comic strengths shine as well. Another actor who very capably handles two roles is Erin Pettifor as Caroline Bingley and Mrs. Gardiner – both parts of which show very different sides of her gift to slip into different roles.

Rounding out the roles are Warren Stephens who handles three parts – Sir William Lucas, Fitzwilliam and a servant – Stephens can always be relied on to bring his skills to whatever role he lands, and finally as the steely, rude and controlling-to-the-end Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Katie Walker is also in perfectly fine dramatic form.

Also, kudos to set designer Colin Winslow, costume designer Carrie Hamilton and lighting designer Lee Livingstone for bringing their genius to the show as well. All around, a memorable show and tribute to one of the world’s most beloved authors.

Pride and Prejudice continues through to Feb. 14 on the Arts Centre mainstage with curtain at 7:30 p.m.

There are also a matinee on Feb. 14th at 1 p.m. A Valentine’s Day tea runs after that particular performance as well. Tickets are available online at www.bkticketcentre.ca or by calling 403-755-6626.

editor@reddeerexpress.com

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