Review: An ingenious look at Jane Austen's characters on Kenilworth stage

Charles Essex reviewsMr Bennet's Bride by Emma Wood at the Priory Theatre, Kenilworth

Jo Beckett as Sarah Gardiner, Nicky Main as Mary Ellingworth and Ruth Jones as Mrs Bowman
Jo Beckett as Sarah Gardiner, Nicky Main as Mary Ellingworth and Ruth Jones as Mrs Bowman

This very clever play is a prequel to Pride and Prejudice and this production captured perfectly the manners and tradition of the era.

The cast were well directed by Anita Dalton and they mastered the lengthy dialogue admirably, especially Stuart Lawson as the irascible Robert Bennet, as he became increasingly frustrated by his layabout son James, the Mr Bennet in question.

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The cause of Robert’s frustration? The need for James to produce a male heir to stop the estate being inherited by a different side of the family.

James was played with the right amount of languidity and resentment by Liam Hogan, unwilling to be pressured by his father’s attempts at matchmaking. That is until he meets the attractive Emily Gardiner (Alexandra Morris). Alexandra and Liam gently sparred, with the right degree of her giggly flirtatiousness and his stumbling gaucheness.

Adam Schumacher was excellent as Benedict Collins, the cousin who looked to inherit should James not produce a male heir, with the right amount of greed, odiousness and pomposity. Whenever he was on stage there was a palpable tension and irritation at his behaviour from the Bennets.

The stand-up row between Robert Bennet and Benedict as civility was peeled away and truths were finally said was wonderfully acted. The epilogue as the now Mrs Bennet produced five daughters was cleverly portrayed and the increasingly anxious and forlorn looks at the lack of a son from Mr Bennet junior and senior were comical.

The set, which ingeniously and quickly transformed on several occasions between two different sitting rooms, and the costumes were a tribute to Richard Poynter, set designer, and Dawn Morris, in wardrobe, respectively. The Chopin piano accompaniments were a delightful touch.

It is a tribute to the actors that this reviewer could envisage some of these characters or their offspring 50 years thence in Pride and Prejudice.

* Mr Bennet’s Bride runs until Saturday, April 9. Visit www.priorytheatre.co.uk or call TicketSource on 0333 666 4466 to book or for more information.