It’s one of the world’s most popular love stories, the ultimate boy meets girl romantic comedy. Pride and Prejudice, written by Jane Austen in the early 19th century, has been adapted countless times for stage and screen, in many different ways – but perhaps never quite like The Two Bit Classics’ production, which is about to return for a second UK tour from October. Joannah Tincey’s adaptation features just two performers: Jo herself, and her husband, Nick Underwood.
The unique production was last staged in 2014, when it was described by A Younger Theatre as “a delightful little gem of theatre that pulses with comedy and energy”. As the company prepares to tour again, Nick explains, “We decided to bring the show back because people enjoyed it so much the first time! We had so many wonderful emails from people, many of whom wanted to see it again. We love playing the show, we enjoy working together. It’s a great fit all round.”
Pride and Prejudice has brought us some of literature’s most iconic characters, from the romantic to the ridiculous. “The characters are immediately recognisable, fallible, funny and engaging,” says Jo. “Austen creates these fully fleshed characters, full of strengths and weaknesses. We recognise ourselves in there somewhere, I think.”
But does a cast of just two actors mean we only get to enjoy two of these brilliant creations? “Definitely not!” says Jo. “21, in fact,” clarifies Nick.
Jo explains what inspired her unique adaptation: “I’d been doing a lot of work as an actor on various multi-role style productions – including some Shakespeare and Dickens. Each time I was involved in one, it struck me how clear the language becomes when you have to use it to tell an audience who you are and what you want (when you’re changing characters from moment to moment, that’s important!). I love Austen’s wonderful language and wit and it struck me that here was a way to bring it to life theatrically.
“Pride and Prejudice is such a wonderful story and there are so many double-acts within it: Jane and Lizzy, Darcy and Lizzy, Mr and Mrs Bennet, Lydia and Kitty, Bingley and Darcy…”
“All the words we say are ones that Austen wrote herself,” adds Nick. “Jo didn’t need to invent dialogue. Characters use Austen’s text, we talk to the audience in character, and our job is to grow that relationship each night. It’s a really immediate and exciting way to work.”
Bringing to life so many characters with just two performers naturally presents quite a challenge. “An actor’s job is to find the truth in every character, otherwise we’re wasting an audience’s time,” Nick explains. “That doesn’t mean characters can’t be funny, but we aren’t sending them up in any way. If this was two hours of silliness, people would get bored. This is two hours of pure Austen. As for other challenges, well, you need to be pretty fit to play 21 characters between the two of you…”
Unique it may be, but die-hard fans of the novel need not fear – The Two Bit Classics’ production remains completely faithful to Austen’s original. “The straightest form of the story is the novel of course, and any adaptation will offer a different experience from that,” says Jo. “Screen adaptations or more traditional stage adaptations usually need to invent dialogue – because Austen didn’t write a script! There’s always something new in there. Our take is two actors, but our language is as pure as it gets.”
Both Jo and Nick agree what excites them most about this second tour is new audiences for their show, and a fresh chance to play the story each night. “The audience are a part of the show, as it’s their imagination and response to our story-telling that brings the show alive,” says Jo. “We want them to go away having actively experienced the story of Darcy and Lizzy, having heard and felt the brilliance of Austen’s writing in a way that is really immersive.”
Nick concludes, “I hope they go away having laughed and having been moved by the brilliance of Austen’s story and characters.”
Pride and Prejudice opens at Preston Guild Hall from 6th-8th October and all tour dates can be found at www.pandptour.com.