Few of the classics have been performed or adapted as often as Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, a testament both to the quality of the original and the beloved position it holds in people’s hearts and minds.
Not only has the 1813 novel enjoyed a variety of film, television and stage adaptations, but the literary world has also delivered a wide variety of novels inspired by the original – everything from the quirky Pride and Prejudice and Zombies to P.D. James’ recent homage, Death Comes to Pemberley.
Now, local theatre fans are eagerly awaiting Victoria playwright Janet Munsil’s awardw-winning adaptation, playing at Langham Court Theatre Oct. 2 to 18.
Munsil, who has penned her own historical plays, was asked to create the adaptation in 2012 for a co-production between a Calgary theatre company and the National Arts Council. With three months to write, “I just read the book over and over and listened to the audio book until I felt I had absorbed the plot. I just started to write from there and let my brain pick out what was important,” Munsil says, noting while the play initially came in at four hours long, judicious editing brought it down to just 2 1/2 hours, including intermission.
While Darcy fans may be shocked to hear it, Pride and Prejudice actually “isn’t my favourite Jane Austen story. I have to say I love Northanger Abbey,” Munsil says with a smile.
That said, she obviously holds a warm place for the familiar characters, including smart, independent Elizabeth, her patient, kind older sister Jane, parents Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, and the many other characters populating Regency England.
“I wanted my version to highlight the comedy in in the story and in Jane Austen’s writing because I find it’s often seen as dramatic, but they’re in fact (witty) and fun,” Munsil says. “I set out to write as true to Jane’s writing as I could while being understandable.”
Certain social conventions that can be easily explained in a novel are more challenging to explain on stage without considerable extra dialogue, for example.
While some of the book’s characters and scenes have been eliminated for the sake of brevity, and certain scenes condensed and adapted to advance the story, Austen fans and newcomers alike will find a lot to like in the production, says director Judy Treloar.
The large cast of characters of all ages has offered much opportunity for local actors, not to mention choreographer Sylvia Hosie, charged with crafting the early 19th-century dance sequences for the production.
“I love young people and how their heads work so we’re having an amazing time,” Treloar says, commending the work of her your stars, including Melissa Taylor as Elizabeth and Montgomery Bjornson as Darcy, who fans will remember from his recent turn in a very different role as The Graduate’s Benjamin Braddock.