Two actors playing all 21 characters in an adaptation of one of the most popular novels of all time. What could possibly go wrong?
As it turns out, nothing. Not a thing. In fact I may need to issue a gushing alert for this review, because I loved Two Bit Classics’ adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice so much I’m already trying to work out how I can fit in a return visit. Hilarious, inventive, yet completely faithful to Austen’s original text, it’s a work of genius and I didn’t want it to end.
Joannah Tincey and Nick Underwood play all the characters – and that really does mean all the characters. At two and a half hours long, this is not an abridged version of the story, and so we have Bennets, Bingleys, Lucases, Mr Darcy, Mr Wickham, Mr Collins, Lady Catherine… A couple of minor characters get the chop, but anyone with any significance to the plot makes an appearance, and gets the opportunity to narrate their own part in the story.
With so many parts to play, there’s an obvious need to make each one distinct, and this characterisation is where the production really excels. Each individual has their own unique identifiers – be it a habit, an accessory or piece of clothing (often produced from one of the many nooks concealed around Dora Schweitzer’s abstract set), their way of speaking or their bearing – and we always know exactly which of Austen’s brilliant creations we’re looking at, often before they’ve even started speaking. There’s also a fair bit of gender switching, which proves yet another source of fun, with Nick Underwood taking on at least four female roles from the giggling Kitty to the demure Jane, and Joannah Tincey regularly sweeping aside her skirt to reveal the trousers of Mr Bingley.
The production is fully aware of its limitations and doesn’t try to gloss over them, but instead plays them for laughs. And so Mary – the forgotten Bennet sister – is replaced by a music stand, while one of the biggest laughs of the evening is prompted by the inventive recreation of Pemberley’s family portraits.
Most mind-blowing of all is the stamina of the performers, who never flag in energy and easily hold the audience’s attention for the entire two and a half hours. Under the direction of Abigail Anderson, the action is non-stop, moving seamlessly from one episode to the next, with the actors frequently having to play several characters even within one scene, yet they never falter. This astonishing feat of endurance and dexterity alone justifies the standing ovation at the end of the evening.
For P&P fans and newbies alike, this is a glorious celebration of Austen’s book; the drama, comedy and romance we know and love are all there to be enjoyed almost word for word. But with so many ‘classic’ adaptations already in existence, this production brings with it a unique twist that makes the story feel simultaneously fresh and familiar, and – dare I say it – even funnier than the original.
Pride and Prejudice is touring until 25th November, then at Jermyn Street Theatre, London, until 21st December.
To find out more, read Theatre Things’ interview with Joannah Tincey and Nick Underwood.