Saturday, November 24, 2012

Review: (Ottawa) Pride and Prejudice

Tyrell Crews and Shannon Taylor (photo credit: Trudie Lee)

by Jim Murchison 

By Canadian theatre standards NAC’s mainstage theatre is a relatively large house and while it works quite well for more intimate shows, it is fun to see it rev up to its potential of a performance space of more grandeur. Certainly, the large cast and Jane Austen’s epic story of class, courting and ritual in 19th century England would give the theatre the chance to strut its stuff.

The first hint you get that you are in for an evening of more traditional theatre is that the curtain is actually drawn. When it does open your eye is immediately drawn to the oversized hangings of pastel coloured sheets of writing paper and the large rosettes. Patrick Clark’s set is romantic and representational which allows for pieces to fly in and out, to create the different locations and let the actors have full use of the breadth of the space. Clark’s costumes are gorgeous. So the mood and the stage are set. 

Director Dennis Garnhum put together some lovely constructed tableaux while Darcy described them in his letters.

Janet Munsil’s adaptation is very faithful to Austen which of course it must be. The Austenophiles would be outraged otherwise. The first act takes its time setting the mood and lets us get to know the characters, although I suspect almost everyone in the audience is well familiar with them. 
There are 17 actors that appear on stage, so I will not be discussing all of them except to say that this is a very talented and balanced cast precisely directed by Dennis Garnhum without appearing to be too automatic or stagey.

Shannon Taylor as Elizabeth Bennett is very good. She is the only one that has the equal balance of head and heart and is firmly believable in her resolve to remain true to herself even when she is unsure of who she is. Tyrrell Crews as Darcy on the other hand plays a character that believes that he knows exactly who he is and plays his befuddlement at finding out that he may love someone far beneath his station quite well.

Among the rest of the cast, Pierre Brault as the pious Mr. Collins was stellar with his impeccable timing and well defined performance. Elizabeth Stepkowski Tarhan plays the wildly hyperbolic Mrs. Bennett with abandon.

Michael Spencer Davis was very impressive in the smaller role of Mr Gardiner. He was subdued and conversational in a way that reaches to an audience while he appears to make no effort to project. Similarly Allan Morgan had an ease in the way that he almost offhandedly delivered his lines, but very subtly displayed his love for Elizabeth. 

There is one more thing I want to say about the direction and the lighting. Director Dennis Garnhum put together some lovely constructed tableaux while Darcy described them in his letters. Most of the time in theatre, shadows of actors are done upstage behind scrims or dramatically backlit. Jock Munro’s lighting allowed these tableaux to take place in shadow at the very front of the stage while the actors describing the scene were lit behind them. I just found that a very effective choice and it seems to me a proper way to end a review of a Jane Austen work. In silhouette.

Pride and Prejudice continues to December 9

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