Pride and Prejudice holds a special place in many of our hearts, writes Philippa Watts, but is the weight of expectation a challenge for The Dulwich Players’ cast?
More than 20 years after the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice first aired, it is still the benchmark for all things Bennett. The 1995 series was a seismic shift for period dramas on the BBC and beyond, and catapulted audiences’ expectations to a level from which they have never come down. I can’t even go to a stately home without thinking that the fireplace probably cost ‘eight… hundred… pounds.’
That’s no bad thing, but as an actor it is difficult to see past Colin Firth in the lake, particularly with Alison Steadman squawking in your mind’s ear. A lot of our conversations in rehearsals have started with ‘in the BBC version…’, but we owe it to ourselves and to Jane Austen to do more than attempt to put together a cut down version of what has come before. Besides, we don’t have a lake.
A lot of us have gone back to the novel to find out how Austen really portrayed her characters. I certainly found this helpful; I’ve always thought that Susannah Harker’s Jane is a wet blanket, a bit like a Lego figure with a blank but amiable smile. But surely Jane must be roiling with emotion inside! Her mother is a constant embarrassment, she falls in love suddenly and loses it just as unexpectedly, and her sister disappears with a known cad. Surely even the most repressed of women must let this out from time to time? So I’m trying to let this peek through Jane’s composure without losing her role as the most stable of the Bennett family, and Rebecca and Hannah’s script gives scope for this.
Caroline Hutchins, who plays Kitty, thinks that playing her role will give her an even greater appreciation for the series: ‘I have seen the BBC adaptation so many times and all those performances are so definitive to me. Luckily, Kitty as a character has never stood out much to me before so I didn’t find it too hard to avoid copying the performance! I now feel I need to re-watch the series to see Kitty, now that I feel a lot more attached to her.’
Hayley Blundell, taking the role of Charlotte Lucas, sees an opportunity to restore some of the personality traits that Charlotte loses in the series: ‘Charlotte is a miserable person with little energy in the BBC version, and I don’t think the book shows this. She is a friend to Lizzie and it wouldn’t work if this were so. Whilst she’s not supposed to be pretty or beautiful, she doesn’t have to have zero personality.’
Not everyone in the cast has the same attachment to the series. Daniel Aarons, playing Mr Bingley, hadn’t seen the BBC version, the 2005 film or read the book before we started rehearsals. He did watch the film to catch up on the plot, but says ‘I do feel like I’m missing some of the detail sometimes, like I haven’t got the full picture. But then maybe that’s a good thing, I don’t have any expectations for Bingley.’
However well you know the story, the Dulwich Players’ production is a fresh take on a beloved classic. Our spirited cast capture the family’s ups and downs in their own way, possibly even revealing sides to the characters that you had never considered before.
Philippa plays Jane Bennett in the Dulwich Players' production of Pride and Prejudice, adapted and directed by Rebecca Dallaway and Hannah Tomlinson.
To be performed at the Edward Alleyn Theatre, Dulwich College from 19th to 22nd February.
For ticket information, visit https://www.dulwichplayers.org/book-now
[Image: The Bennett Sisters, Pride and Prejudice directed for the BBC by Simon Langton, 1995]