Wednesday, 26 June 2013

'Pride and Prejudice' @ Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park

Despite the fact that I was out and about all day yesterday, and I was actually working for most of the day (well...if you call tutu-making work!), it felt like the official first day of the summer holidays! Maybe it was because of the lovely sunshine and strawberry ice-lollies, or perhaps it was the picnic in Regent’s Park? One thing’s for sure: ending the evening with ‘Pride and Prejudice’ at the Open Air Theatre definitely had a part to play in making it the most summery day of the year so far!

If you’re looking for the perfect blend of going to theatre but still feeling like you’re relaxing in your garden at home with friends and a barbeque, the Theatre at Regent’s Park is the place to go. Set just within one of the largest parks in London (also home to London Zoo), follow the beautifully arranged flower beds to the fairy-light-lit theatre.
I went with a friend to see the opening night of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ (directed by Deborah Bruce), celebrating the 200th anniversary of the novel by Jane Austen. What a great setting for a stage adaptation of one of the most well-known love stories in English literature! The Regency period, with its Empire-line muslin gowns and romantic countryside settings was perfectly partnered with the twittering of birds in the surrounding trees, and the slow sunset just beyond. Once the sky was dark, the spotlights caught the fluttering moths and insects above the stage in warm light to create such a beautiful, natural, ethereal atmosphere no indoor theatre can create.
The play starts with a burst of energy – piano-playing, a flurry of giggling girls and laughing officers bounding onto the scene through the audience. The chorus take their places on chairs and tables up stage, just visible behind the elegant yet simple set piece, and the action onstage is completely surrounded. With the set merging into the seating area, the theatre becomes an intimate and private space; the audience is drawn into the narrative from the start.

The storyline stays true to the original, while still ensuring that with excellent delivery of all roles, I never felt like I knew exactly what was coming next. The adaptation into a play by Simon Reade is fast-paced, so there were no breaks for changes between scenes. I really liked the idea of the rotating set piece (designed by Max Jones): a very imaginative way of distinguishing the transition from scene to scene, or each different location in the story.
Of course, I couldn’t help but pay a little more attention to the costumes, designed by Tom Piper. In my view, they were excellent concepts, and beautifully made too. On his website, Piper wrote that he faced “the danger that all the girls could blend into a mass of white muslin” – but this is certainly not the case. Each costume conveys character expertly, whether that is through shape, as in the 18th Century-style gown for Lady Catherine de Bourgh, or through rustic printed cottons used in Miss Charlotte Lucas’ dress. Each costume is simplified to allow layers to be added while onstage: a plain day dress is transformed into a much more elegant dance affair with the addition of a lace overdress and feathered bonnet. My favourite would have to be Miss Lydia Bennett’s luscious velvet spencer over her light pink day dress, creating a very strong image of excess, frivolity, and most importantly, a little girl desperate to be grown-up. Not only did the use of specific fabrics bring to life personality, so did the fit of the costumes – successfully making them an uncomplicated yet expressive narrative tool.
I highly recommend this production, not only as a piece of theatre but as a great evening out this summer. But if you can, make sure you go on a sunny day – barbeques, picnics on the grass, and sitting outdoors are not so much fun in the rain! I will definitely be visiting the Open Air Theatre again soon; they have a fantastic selection of shows on throughout the next few months!
'Pride and Prejudice' is on at the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park, London until 20th July 2013. For more information go to www.openairtheatre.com .

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