Written by Emma Wood
Directed by Aarne Neeme
Canberra REP production
Canberra Rep Theatre, Acton to 23 September
Reviewed by Len Power 9 September 2023
Jane Austen wrote about love and marriage in the early 19th century, detailing the manners of a society obsessed with maintaining the social order of the time.
Her much-loved early 19th century novel, “Pride and Prejudice”, becomes the basis for Australian, Emma Wood’s 2014 play, “Mr Bennet’s Bride”, an imaginative “prequel” that takes place 25 years earlier than Austen’s novel. It focusses on James Bennet, the father of Elizabeth Bennet in the novel, and how he came to marry Emily Gardiner, the daughter of his father’s lawyer, George Gardiner.
Director, Aarne Neeme, brings this world beautifully to life with a good-looking production that is full of energy and fine performances. Amongst the large cast of ten, Rob de Fries excels as the quick-tempered Robert Bennet, James Bennet’s father. The scene of his apology to his son late in the play is performed with touching sensitivity.
Terry Johnson is nicely smug and pompous as the odious cousin, Benedict Collins, and Iain Murray and Kate Harris do well as the anxious parents of Emily Gardiner.
In the smaller role of the servant, Mrs Graves, Sally Rynveld gives a sharply etched performance and there is fine character work early in the play from Rina Onorato as a nervous mother and Cameron Rose as a not very interested possible match for James Bennet.
The attractive revolving set showing two homes of different social standing was designed by Andrew Kay and Anna Senior’s eye-catching period costumes add much to the overall look of the play.
Having a knowledge of Austen’s story and characters is not necessary to enjoy this play but it adds another dimension if you do. It gives us an insight into Jane Austen’s outspoken heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, and how her character and prejudices may have been formed by her parents. Wood’s play, and this fine production of it, evoke the times, characters and manners so well, it feels like it could have been another Jane Austen story.
Photo by Karina Hudson
Len Power's reviews are also broadcast on Artsound FM 92.7 in the ‘Arts Cafe’ and ‘Arts About’ programs and published in his blog 'Just Power Writing' at https://justpowerwriting.blogspot.com/.