Two nights ago I somehow ended up at ye olde NAC, in the radiant company of Team Visitorium superstar Grace Gordon. We were there for the Ottawa premiere of their latest, a co-production with Theatre Calgary of Jane Austen’s PRIDE & PREJUDICE, in a new adaptation by Victoria’s Janet Munsil. Naturally I was excited, because this was the long-awaited return to Ottawa of the lady miss Alix Sideris, without whose presence we are all poorer. That, and P&P had debuted nearly a month earlier IN Calgary, where it managed to sell out like nobody’s business, and generate some epic buzz in the process. Word on the streets of cowtown was, this show was THE one to see. So yeah, I was excited.
The story, by Jane ‘Freight Train’ Austen, tells the well-mannered tale of the Bennet clan, a gang ostensibly led by an imposing Mon and Pop combo (Allan Morgan and Elizabeth Stepkowski Tarhan), but more honestly ruled by the gaggle of five unmarried (gasp!) daughters always running about the place. Young’uns Lydia and Kitty (Laura Huckle and Leda Davies) are a lively pair of flirting machines, prim Mary (Pippa Leslie) is too smart for her own good, and optimist Jane (Gemma James-Smith) is, in most every male suitor’s eyes, the prettiest thing that ever was. Which leaves eldest daughter Elizabeth (Shannon Taylor), a premature cynic and scathing wit, to try her darnedest to carve the world to her liking. Enter nearby rich lads, Misters Bingley (Brendan McMurty Howlett) and Darcy (Tyrell Crews). Bingley and Jane seem a perfect match straightaway, while Darcy and Elizabeth are almost at one another’s throats. And you know what THAT means.
The Austentatious one pretty much invented the modern romantic comedy, and the NAC/Theatre Calgary crew do not disappoint with this incredibly lively and fresh rendition of what many might think to be a well-worn classic. Taylor and Crews are a joy as our combative would-be lovers, and are surrounded on all fronts by a pretty amazing collection of talent. The aforementioned Alix Sideris does indeed shine in her scenes as sharp Auntie Gardiner who, along with her husband (Michael Spencer-Davis) do their best to keep the Bennets in good shape. Another local hero, Pierre Brault, manages some pretty heroic comedy scene-stealing as the opportunistic minister Mister Collins. There are so many good little performances (and good BIG performances) it’s gonna take too long to try and list them all. I’ll just say Terry Tweed as imperious Lady de Bourgh is villainous comic gold, and leave it at that (but there’s SO MUCH MORE!)
Director Dennis Garnhum (also AD at Theatre Calgary) crafted a slick, smooth, sexy show, with an amazing set and costumes from designer Patrick Clark, and some scene transitions that were so sweet I didn’t even notice them until they were all over. More importantly, he made a show that was unabashedly romantic and proud of it…lush, lovely and just downright gorgeous. I fell in love with this show just a little…which, I realized as I was leaving the theatre, is in direct violation of my New Year’s resolution! Way to go, Garnhum, I only had a month left to go! Sheesh..although I may still be TECHNICALLY safe, I’ll have to consult the rulebook. In the meantime, any of y’all who have even one or two romantic bones in your body should probably do the right thing and run screaming to the NAC box office, before the most opulent and bighearted romance on Ottawa stages this year sells out even faster than it did in Alberta. Peace, love and soul,
The Visitor (and Winston)