Pride and Prejudice at the Gate Theatre

December 5, 2013

You can huff and puff about the usual gimmicks the Gate Theatre tart their productions up with. Like a frumpy girl who’s found a frock that flatters, they rethread the same old formula rather than messing with what’s worked form them in the past. But what good will moaning do you? Their faithful audience will step over your stiffening corpse to get at the familiar action.

Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is 200 years old and the Gate have marked the occasion by mounting their version of the tale, first staged in 94 and revived just under a decade later.Directed by Alan Stanford- using a twenty year old script, and featuring a couple of Brennans, this farcical rendering of the text is attuned to the demands of their congregation.

There’s nary a role unhammed so the comedy is mined to its full potential (Barbara Brennan’s turn can be seen from outer space, while no one lifts a leg with such camp relish as her brother Stephen). While this means we lose the humanity and drive of the characters, Rachel Gleeson’s Mary and Hulme-Beaman’s Lydia are bang on the money for that frivolous, feel-good factor.(And truth be told Stephen brings true pathos to the part of Mr Bennett).

With five daughters out in society and the eldest not yet married, Mrs. Bennett (Eleanor Methven) is frantic at all the single ladies without a ring on it. The arrival of Mr. Bingley (Stephen Swift) and the militia affords her the chance to offload some daughters before her husband dies and their home reverts to the next male heir, Mr Collins(Mark O Regan, looking nothing like his characters 25 years). As each of the Bennett girls attempt to align their future with a suitable suitor, the sparring between Elizabeth (Lorna Quinn) and Mr. Darcy (Sam O Mahony) takes centre stage.

Pity, then, there’s no chemistry. While we can forgive the production it’s disinterest in the social satire and-more problematically, the desperation that should fuel it, for the central romance to have no fire, no tenderness, means that between all the arch comedy there’s nothing to centre the show.

The leads just don’t communicate. They orate, not converse and lack a curiosity in each other. Quinn has calculated her performance to the beat of each moment, waiting for her cue and goes in blazing. There is no heart and no soul.

Contrasted with the pairing of Stephen Swift and Aoibhin Garrihy as the productions secondary romance- who capture the great feeling between their characters, their relationship lacks emotional progression.

There is a prime opportunity for us to get a taste of Austen’s firm view of her characters in the scene changes where Elizabeth fills us in on the action, but, in spite of a spirited delivery it never rises above being a device, much like O’Mahony’s well executed but ill conceived monologue where he corrects Elizabeth’s misguided opinion of him.

There’s also a problem in having Methven and the younger Bennett sisters playing to such extremes.The comedy needs to originate with the characters circumstance. They are turning into some of our finest character actors, like their stage mother who, on form, is untouchable. Let them explore the full richness of their parts rather than deafen the depth in broken decibels.

In the performance of the night, Maeve Fitzgerald as Charlotte Lucas underscores not only what the spine of the production should have been- the precarious position of women at that time, but also proves that when the fine line between high farce and human emotion is tread correctly, it can be devastating.

Longer version of a review published in the Irish Examiner


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