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Vancouver Theatre: Pride and Prejudice at Capilano University

ppcap1_0.jpgPride and Prejudice
adapted by Janet Munsil from the novel by Jane Austen
directed by Stuart Aikins
BlueShore Financial Cente for the Performing Arts
Capilano University
November 15 to  23, 2013

Vancouver, BC:  In the 200th anniversary year of the publication of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, the theatre programs at Capilano University and the University of British Columbia both chose to stage plays adapted from the novel.  I had the opportunity to see Theatre at UBC's Pride and Prejudice, and the Capilano University production, in the same week, affording an opportunity to compare the productions, which used adaptations by American playwright, John Jory and Canadian playwright, Janet Munsil, respectively.

Janet Munsil (Influence) is Artistic Director of Victoria's Intrepid Theatre. Her adaptation of Pride and Prejudice was commissioned in 2012 for a co-production by Theatre Calgary and the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. The professional production premiered in Calgary in 2012 and then ran in Ottawa.   I was present at the penultimate performance  of the student production at Capilano, which was followed by a talk-back with Munsil and the student cast, moderated by director Aikins.  Munsil described how she had immersed herself in the plot and characters of Pride and Prejudice by reading and rereading the text, listening to audiotapes of the book, and viewing various production such as the television series. Her script as interpreted by director Aikins, led to a production that was overall presentational in style, with a realistic, conventional setting and a sweetly romantic ambience.

pp5.jpgDecorations on the proscenium arch surrounding the closed curtains, with a male and female cameo profile on either side, evoked "Jane Austen's England at the turn of the 19 th century.” The curtains opened to a backdrop of large flowers, and moving set pieces were used to indicate the interior or exteriors of house at Longbourn, Netherfield Park or Pemberley.

The 1st act of this production ran for almost an hour and 45 minutes. Some of this time was occupied by repetitive, lengthy country dance scenes. However a measured delivery of lines, lengthy pauses and slow scene changes also  contributed to the duration of this 1st act. Several of the actors were difficult to hear. I liked the selection of music for the sound design but more attention could  have been paid to the impact of the volume on the onstage dialogue.

pp4.jpgDuring much of the first act, perhaps because of the pacing, there was a lack of tension on stage although the 2nd act was better. Among this large student cast there were performers that brought a sharp and higher energy level to their performance. Diana Beairstoe captured in every nuance the meanness of her character, Caroline Bingley and with her first entry the dramatic tension of the scene increased remarkably.

Overall the relationship between the 5 sisters was nicely brought out. Grace Cullingsworth played Lizzie and Heather Hansma played Jane, with subtlety so it was not always easy to gather their intent.  Angie McLeod was a delightfully giddy and thoughtless Lydia Bennett. Crystal Weltzin highlighted Kitty’s silliness, while CJ Mcgillivray managed to evoke a sense of both pity and frustration for poor Mary. I also liked Davin Reid’s Darcy, which nicely blended pride and arrogance with intelligence.

There were a couple of moments of non-realism in this otherwise realistic presentation that I found jarring. For example in the Pemberley scene the actors were discussing and clearly looking at portraits yet the frames were empty. The second was the bathtub scene with Jane and Lizzie, where there was a lack of congruity between text and action.

Perhaps had this not been in direct comparison with the other student production the quirks of slow pacing and poorly audible dialogue would have been less of an issue for me. Overall both productions highlighted the key developments in Austen’s wonderful novel and were faithful to this exquisite story of romantic love.