How do you go about translating one of the best-known and best-loved works of English Literature for the stage? We find out from the team behind the highly-acclaimed Regent’s Park Theatre’s adaptation of Pride And Prejudice, which is visiting our theatre next year.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged,” that a great work of literature will be subjected to numerous adaptations – and Jane Austen’s Pride And Prejudice is no exception. Some of these adaptations bring with them almost as much baggage as the original novel – in particular the BBC’s 1995 version, adapted by Andrew Davies and starring Colin Firth as Mr Darcy, making an infamous appearance in a wet shirt.
All of which must make it harder to successfully stage a new version of the novel. As director Deborah Bruce says: “Pride And Prejudice is a famous book and audiences have a sense of ownership of it and strong ideas of who these characters are. The book is witty and wholehearted and romantic and a great deal happens – and the play is only two hours long! The action has to move fast and tell the story clearly. The production needs to carry the atmosphere of the book and depict the world of the play and keep the audience engaged with the characters’ journeys.”
The person who had to pack all of these famous characters – and the audiences’ expectations of them – into a two-hour play was adaptor Simon Reade. He says: “Although Pride And Prejudice is a story led by Elizabeth Bennet and Darcy, it is also populated by an entire world true unto itself. In my version there is an empathy with the parents, Mr and Mrs Bennet, which often surprises audiences. I have also tried to allow the women to speak with the stronger voices that Austen gives them; and I am pleased that there are more actresses required to mount this version than actors.”
His adaptation is described by Deborah Bruce as “wonderfully fluid”, but when dealing with a task like this, where on earth do you start. Simon says: “I start by writing out all the dialogue by hand, and turning some of the narration into dialogue. The reason being that working at the same speed as the original author, and crafting the work as they would have done, by hand more often than on a computer, makes you pay attention to the detail and nuance and diction. But before I have even got to that stage I will have been reading a novel when the penny drops that it is inherently dramatic and I have a gut feeling about how to adapt it.”
But there’s more to the creation of this, the “perfect Pride And Prejudice” (Daily Mail) than just the script, important though that is. In depicting a world of complex social structures, design, especially costume design, is hugely important. According to costume designer Tom Piper: “Clothes are very strong clues as to class and status, no matter what period you are in. In general more expensive fabrics such as silk tell a story of wealth, the choices of colour and pattern say a lot about the taste of a character. The biggest challenge in this production is to tell the difference between the country dance, where Elizabeth first meets Darcy, and the much grander ball at Bingleys. Some of the characters, especially Elizabeth, never leave the stage so we have to find a way to change her look very simply but make it appropriate for the social situation. So we have devised jackets and layers that can be removed or added on stage.”
Pride And Prejudice: Tuesday 31 January to Saturday 4 February. Book here.