We talk to Felicity Montagu, who’s playing Mrs Bennett in the Regent’s Park Theatre’s adaptation of Pride And Prejudice, which will be at our theatre in late January.
What do you think people continue to be enthralled by this story?
I think it’s because it’s so human. Jane Austen writes very astutely about women and their situation, and whilst women are much more emancipated these days, many of the issues she covers still resonate; that society that she writes about was very tight but still the things that happen within the play are very relevant. They’re about emotions and about people not achieving happiness. I also think it’s very funny and very sad. It’s a very good comedy drama.
What’s your take on the character of Mrs Bennet and what do you most enjoy about playing her?
She’s a testy role and a very demanding one because she’s a very mercurial character. She changes very quickly on a sixpence. I like her self-righteousness and her ability to tantrum and to be almost childlike. The element of being a child in a rehearsal room is terribly exciting and I enjoy that; I enjoy the child in her.
Can you recall the first time you encountered the book?
I think it would have been when I was at school. It was on the school syllabus and I loved it. I love Jane Austen. She writes very astutely about human nature. She very cleverly extrapolates moments and dramatises them. She just pinpoints human nature very accurately. You could put some of her characters in different situations in this world now and they’d still have the same kind of emotions. She’s a great painter really. Like Dickens did, she paints the most wonderful characters. You go into an art gallery and you see these wonderful pictures and you imagine who these people were; she does the same thing with great skill
How does Simon Reade’s script bring the book alive for audiences?
It’s a terribly difficult thing to do but I think he’s done it very cleverly and you combine that with [director] Deborah Bruce, who’s got a visual eye and a great sense of reality in comedy – which is my favourite type of comedy. I don’t really like end-of-the-pier comedy, I love human nature, laughing and crying. I love to make an audience do that.
How is it working with Matthew Kelly, who plays Mr Bennet?
I worked with Matthew 30 years ago on his sketch show, and he’s really fantastic. It’s wonderful because I hadn’t seen him in all those years but walking in the door it was like I’d never stopped seeing him. He’s a great actor and a tremendous person, and I’m so pleased we’re going to be spending seven months getting to know each other again.
What are you most looking forward to about touring?
I haven’t toured before so it’s me being very daring. Well, I toured straight after drama college for a very short time, then my career took me to London and I was filming a lot so I’ve never done any rep. I wrote 100 letters after I left university, then after drama school, and I didn’t get one reply. My first break was at the Bush Theatre and I was terrified because of my faults and flaws – I hadn’t learnt anything at that point. It’s even worse now for young actors because the competition is much greater and there are far less opportunities in theatre to go and learn your trade. It’s very sad that we don’t seem to be able to generate more work for young people to go and learn. As for touring, my children said “You’ve got to do it, Mum, this is the time to do it”.
Do you have any pre- or post-show rituals?
Everything changes. Every different show you do the ritual changes. I like to keep myself on my toes. I like to pull myself up short and say “Am I going to have a bike ride today? Am I going to swim? Am I going to do this or that?” So I have rituals that I develop according to the character I’m playing, the show I’m doing and also where I am.
Which roles do you most get recognised for?
It’s quite complicated really. I said to my sister recently “I’m getting recognised a lot at the moment, why is that?” and she said “It’s stacking up – you’ve done 30 years on the box and radio and quite a few films now so it’s all stacking up”. In a shop the other day people recognised me from Bridget Jones but I did that I don’t know how many years ago, then there’s a run of people recognising me from Alan Partridge, then I don’t get recognised at all. It’s great. But I always get “I know you from somewhere, did we go to the same school?”
What have been your career highlights so far?
I’ve enjoyed all of it really, except for jobs where you’ve had to work really hard on the script. Obviously I adore working with Steve Coogan. I respect him hugely and I love working with him. He’s a great guy. He’s very fair and he’s tough. He’s like a sparrowhawk! I loved doing Doc Martin and I got a wonderful high doing Bridget Jones. It was marvellous working with such good actors.
Pride And Prejudice: Tuesday 31 january to Saturday 4 February. Book here.