Sunday, September 10, 2023

Mr Bennet's Bride


Sean Sadimoen as James Bennet and Stephanie Waldron as Emily Gardiner
Mr Bennet’s Bride by Emma Wood.  Canberra Repertory Society at Canberra REP Theatre, September 8 – 23, 2023.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
September 9

Director – Aarne Neeme AM
Set Designer – Andrew Kay; Set Coordinator – Russell Brown OAM
Costume Designer – Anna Senior OAM
Wardrobe Coordinator – Jeanette Brown OAM
Lighting Designer – Mike Moloney; Sound Designer – Justin Mullins
Stage Manager – Mandy Brown
Photographer – Karina Hudson

James Bennet – Sean Sadimoen; Emily Gardiner – Stephanie Waldron
James’ father Robert Bennet – Rob de Fries
Robert’s sister Mary Ellingworth – Liz St Clair Long
Mary’s maid Mrs Graves – Sally Rynveld
Their cousin Benedict Collins – Terry Johnson
Robert’s attorney George Gardiner – Iain Murray and his wife Sarah – Kate Harris
Mrs Bowman – Rina Onorato and her daughter Clara – Cameron Rose


I have not the slightest doubt that had Miss Austen not suffered her untimely death in 1817, and had been present at the performance of Mr Bennet’s Bride last evening, being aware of the tricks that memory can play after such an age, she surely would have thought to herself, “When did I write that play?  It certainly must have been after I wrote Pride and Prejudice.  Or perhaps not.  Perhaps I wrote this one first, which would explain how I wrote so confidently, with such strongly established characters in the Bennet family.  Oh, ooops! Of course I only wrote novels.  But if I had written for the stage, I would have written this one.”

And, she would have thought, Mr Neeme and his actors must all have read Pride and Prejudice, and understood it so well.  And how much would I like to meet Miss Emma Wood in real life, as we have met metaphorically.

Then Jane and Emma would have such a talk, in the manner of Miss Elizabeth Bennet, about how much the relationship between men and women has changed, or not – though Jane might find herself mixing up Emma Wood with Emma Woodhouse.   Ooops – that’s another novel.

Though this is my fantasy, I certainly have no doubt about the meeting of minds.

Emma Wood’s script is perfect for naturalistic acting, and every member of the cast presented beautifully defined characters whose motivations for speaking were so clear that, as the relationships developed, I found myself reacting as if I knew these people personally – though with enough distance to laugh at them, or groan, especially at cousin Benedict Collins’s subterfuge in the expectation that his newly born son will inherit Robert Bennet’s Hertfordshire estate, since he believes that Robert’s son James is incapable of marrying.

It is a wonderful story of how it was the right thing for 29 year-old bachelor James to do, in genuinely falling in love with his father’s attorney’s daughter, Emily Gardiner, despite her lower class, lack of interest in reading books, and 17-year-old capacity to find everything so funny.  It is the directness of her open honesty that makes them a pair, even though her flighty behaviour takes the nerdy James back a bit.

And for those – I assume all – of us who know Pride and Prejudice so well, we can now better understand how the sensible nature of their daughter Elizabeth comes about.

It is amazing, and even a little embarrassing for me as a still rather ordinary writer, to recognise the brilliance of Emma Woods in absorbing and then matching the brilliance of Jane Austen.  I can imagine an e-talking book beginning with Mr Bennet’s Bride and naturally continuing with no apparent break with Pride and Prejudice.  For another 200 years.

Perhaps Canberra REP could do the recording.