Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

Women in love Austen style

Lizzy and Wickham

Lizzie, Lizzie Crow and the play's wrong 'un, George Wickham, played by Andrew Bowden

Pride and Prejudice

Swan Theatre Amateur Company

Swan Theatre, Worcester


JANE Austen’s much loved tale of the social mores of Regency England is perhaps the earliest example of chick lit.

It might be more society in the counties than sex in the city but it is still very much a female dominated corner in what was a man’s world as the five Bennet sisters are herded by their less refined mother towards suitable – for suitable read wealthy and landowning – suitors.

The result is a wonderful study in the manners and morals, matchmaking and even parenting in the early 19th century which, allied to a good romance, is part of the book’s enduring appeal.

The tale is a simple one. Mr and Mrs Bennet, with their small estate, have five daughters and, as is the way in the world of country gentlemen of that time, their role in life is to read, play the pianoforte, visit friends and relatives and marry well. The concept of work or indeed any form of employment is an alien concept.

When young, rich, eligible Mr Bingley arrives from the North (how one hopes it was Bradford) Mrs Bennet’s world is all a flutter as she sets her sights on him as a husband for . . . well any of her daughters really.

And when it is discovered he has brought his friend Mr Darcy, who is more handsome, equally eligible and even richer, the Bennet marriage machine goes into overdrive.

The story centres on second daughter Elizabeth, Lizzie, played by Lizzie Crow, daughter of director Tim Crow incidentally, who has a wonderfully quality to her voice and lovely enunciation, giving us a believable, headstrong daughter who knows her own mind – not a common trait among the Regency daughters of the landed gentry.

Indeed the whole Bennet family are believable with Michelle Whitfield wonderful as Mrs Bennet whose views on men change in an instant depending upon their current level of marriageability. She flaps around the stage like a clucking mother hen with any man with wealth and a pulse regarded as potential wedding fodder.

Then there is the more demure Jane, the eldest, in old maid territory at 22 when the play opens. Played with a quiet assurance by Teresa Passmore, she is the beauty of the Bennets, closest to Lizzie, and theLIZZY AND ARCY most romantic as she falls headlong for Mr Bingley.

Mary, played by Lizzy Read, a student at Worcester Sixth Form College, is supposedly the plainest of the sisters and the bookish one, with a tedious comment on any event or situation, which produces a gentle humour at her primness.

Fitzwilliam Darcy played by Chris Read, and Lizzy

The youngest are Kitty, played by Rebekah Gill, who is taking A-Level drama at Royal Grammar School, Worcester, and Lydia, played by Poppy Cooksey-Heyfron.

The duo give us a pair of giggly teenagers with Lydia, 15 when the play opens, the leader of the younger sisters, always leading her older sister astray. She is a girl whose main pastime seems to be flirting with the officers of the regiment staying in the vicinity.

Patriarch is STAC regular Keith Thompson as Mr Bennet, the father who leaves Mrs Bennet to deal with the pressing matter of marrying off his daughters, daughters he indulges, particularly Elizabeth, yet does little to protect them from uncertain futures. His property is inherited but is entailed, it ca only pass to male heirs, and with five daughters . . . his family face eviction upon his death.

Thompson is a larger than life character who fills a stage giving another excellent STAC performance. On Bennet’s death the property will pass to his cousin the Rev William Collins,  a fawning, pompous, prat, played with lovely humour by another STAC regular Ian Mason.

He tries for Lizzie and when that fails marries her less demanding friend Charolotte, played by Cora Jackson.

The main men in the lives of the Bennet girls are closer to hand though with Lewis Jones giving a pleasing performance as Charles Bingley while Chris Read is a quiet, if not quite brooding, Fitzwilliam Darcy.

As always in matters of the heart, there has to be trials and tribulations, with Bingley unintentionally ignoring Jane for much of the play and Darcy at first disliked, almost hated for his apparent standoffish arrogance, then despised for his supposed past cruelty and finally vindicated in the all live happily ever after bit at the end.

And there has to be a baddie, in this case, the rake of the piece, George Wickham played by student Andrew Bowden, whose charming veneer masks a lying, scheming, reprobate beneath although the script hardly gives him the chance to develop that and we are left with hearsay as to his dastardly character.

Indeed there are three baddies, or at least two more dislikeable characters in the shape of the haughty, pompous, ill-mannered, autocratic Lady Catherine de Burgh, Darcy’s aunt, played by Emma Tolley, and Charles’s disdainful, snob of a sister Caroline, played by Rosalie Evans in her first production with STAC.

Making up the cast is Jenny Dowse the housekeeper at Darcy’s Derbyshire estate, Pemberley.

Transferring Austen’s novel to the stage has long been a challenge. Film aBennet girlsnd television, with their ability to change scenes, costumes, seasons or whatever in an instant, and, in TV’s case, the advantage of several hours over several episodes to tell the tale, have it easy by comparison.

Lizzy, in studious mode, with sisters Kitty, Rebecca Gill, and Lydia, Poppy Cooksey-Hayfron


STAC have done well with a simple set designed by Peter Read with just a matter of a curtain to hide stage rear for the Bennet house which opens to reveal suspended stately home window frames and a backlit wall for Bingley’s Netherfield Park and Darcy’s Pemberley.

The stage adaptation by the late Brian J Burton, international playwright and a life member of STAC, is very episodic with the lovely recorded voice of professional actor Olivia Lumley filling in the narrative and linking the scenes as furniture is moved and actors appear and disappear in a short blackout.

The problem with lots of scenes is there is a danger of becoming bitty and losing any rhythm. The voiceovers alleviate that to a large extent although the links on opening night could have been snappier, particularly in terms of lighting the next scene.

It was a first night though and with a hired theatre there is a limited time to rehearse technicals, so no doubt a full run through will have ironed out that minor hiccup otherwise Andrew Dunkley’s lighting was all it should be.

A mention to for costumes, under Joanna Crow, which looked authentic with a variety of tops and overskirts adding variety to dresses for the women and jackets off and on ringing the changes for men.

Choreographer Judith Holden also pitches in with a period Regency dance for 12 of the characters at a Netherfield ball. Not one that is likely to catch on among the clubbers, mind, but it certainly looked the part.

Director Tim Crow keeps up a good pace, and brings out plenty of humour both in the dialogue and visually, with little, knowing glances from particularly Mr Bennet and Lizzie, and the little trips and foibles of Mr Collins.

Crow has also done well to keep the majority of the characters within a reasonable age range of Austen’s original, particularly the women which is often a difficulty for amateur groups. All in all it is a most pleasing evening’s diversion as Lizzie might have said. To 09-05-15

Roger Clarke


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