Whether you’re a die-hard Janeite (yes that’s an actual term for Jane Austen fans) or not, you cannot deny her lasting influence on literature and culture in general. Indeed it’s hard for me to think of another novelist who continues to be so popular across such a wide spectrum of people as Jane Austen, and this even 200 years after the publication of her first novels. Beyond the seemingly never-ending movie and TV adaptations of her books, looking at the long-list of spinoffs – Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, Clueless (90s films yeah!), Bridget Jones Diary to name a few – shows how Austen continues to captivate. More than an author, for many she is a role model and inspirational figure. Not bad for an author who published her works anonymously, often after multiple rejections from publishers.
Theatre at UBC is celebrating the 200th anniversary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice, Austen’s second and perhaps most famous novel, with a performance of Jon Jory’s adaption. I went to see the performance on its opening night last Thursday and absolutely loved it! This is not a tale of stuffy or melodramatic substance, a reputation perhaps cooked-up by Hollywood movie renderings, but rather a smart and fun performance that keeps you laughing and interested throughout. The actors (all current UBC students) really highlight Austen’s razor sharp wit and humor that resonates just as well with a current contemporary audience.
The actors do a fantastic job of bringing out Austen’s rich and lively characters. The Bennet family really stands out in this play. There’s the lively and smart Elizabeth Bennet, her kind albeit slightly naïve older sister Jane, the bookish Mary, Catherine and Lydia the frivolous and flirtatious younger sisters, the wisecracking cynical father and the high-flying passionate mother. Each stands out on their own as a rich and unique character, yet it is their dynamic as a family that really makes this performance noteworthy.
Compliment this with a great collection of other characters: the awkward but well-meaning Darcy, the friendly air-headed Bingley, his snobbish sister, the sycophantic priest Collins, and the hilariously haughty Lady de Bourgh, and you have a performance that will keep you thoroughly entertained.
More than keeping you entertained it is a story that makes you think. As with all of Austen’s works, it serves as a reminder of women’s past disenfranchisement and inability to be masters of their own destiny in a male-centric society where their worth solely revolved around marriage and servitude. While not as jarring as in her time, inequalities regarding gender-equality strongly persist to this day, which keeps Austen’s observations relevant and contemporary.
The rosy romantic ending is somewhat played-up in this adaptation, which might undermine some of the original work’s social critiques, but it is nevertheless a nice ending. And the strength, smartness, and emotional complexity of the women characters in the play make up for it.
I spoke to Deb Pickman, promotions coordinator for Theatre at UBC, before the premiere and she expressed her excitement about the show. She mentioned how enthusiastic the students were to work with the material, “it really means a lot for our students, since we have a lot of female students in the program, to get the opportunity to work with material that has such compelling and strong women characters.”
If you are already an Austen fan then you I’m sure you don’t need too much convincing; but if you aren’t one or are on the fence I would highly recommend going. You won’t regret it!
-Photo Credit: Nancii Bernard