Pride & Prejudice,
The Capitol, Horsham, Wednesday, June 19
It’s hard to imagine how a team of amateur actors on a small stage could bring to life a world of extravagant social gatherings and sun-drenched estates but HAODS does it brilliantly.
Adapted by Stacey Fox and Barry Syder, Pride & Prejudice tells the classic story of the Bennet daughters and their attempts to find suitable husbands.
Dennis Manning is a success as Mr Darcy. He plays a character who’s hard to understand and, initially, even harder to like. But there are hints of emotion and even desperation behind his stern exterior, which makes the enigmatic man fascinating to watch, even if it’s hard to identify with him.
Rachael Down gives an excellent performance as Elizabeth Bennet, convincingly creating a sense of the growing romance between her character and Mr Darcy.
Barry Syder is also very good as Mr Bennet and gets most of the best lines. He provides the perfect counterbalance to Mrs Bennet (played by Gill Sutton) and her constant fretting about propriety.
He also provides a breath of fresh air when the play is in danger of becoming too serious, offering the modern day audience a more carefree perspective to the often repressive atmosphere created by strict 19th century manners.
In fact, the play contains a liberal dose of comedy to keep the mood light and fun.
Natalie Oliver makes Mary Bennet’s singing at the piano awful in just the right way, while Chris Hampton delights as the naive and nervous Mr Collins.
Even Mr Darcy gets a few laughs with his hideously tactless observations about the “inferiority” of Elizabeth’s family.
The wonderful Alison Shapley has a smaller role as Lady Catherine de Burgh but almost steals the show with her scary and funny delivery and extravagant costumes.
Unlike HAODS’s previous production, Oliver!, the stage in this play is sparsely decorated, which makes the audience focus more on the acting.
However, there are some tasteful modern flourishes, including a screen that creates the backdrops and even plays footage that the onstage actors have to react to.
This is particularly effective for the scenes where characters write letters to each other and gives a realistic sense of the distance between them.
The play contains a lot of characters on small stage but all the actors put in very good performances and the props are moved around between scenes in ways that are simple and effective.
For more information about HAODS and Pride & Prejudice log on to www.haods.co.uk.
By Lawrence Smith