Arts & Culture

You don’t have to know Jane Austen to enjoy this British comedy

By Lorraine Graves

Published 4:00 PST, Thu December 12, 2019

Last Updated: 2:40 PST, Tue January 7, 2020

The set is sumptuous. I’d love to live in that house with the grand bowed window that looks over the snowy garden. The music, too, adds to the mood as the white stuff slowly falls outside the panes.  

The Arts Club’s remount of Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon is the best of a British drawing room comedy with elements of farce all elegantly wrapped up in the language of early 1800s England. The bottom line, whether you like or even know the Jane Austen characters of the Bennet sisters and their exploits, you will have a jolly time. 

Called an imagined sequel to Austen’s 1813 novel Pride and Prejudice, this play has all the delicious elements of the original period piece with the biting social commentary. 

There is much humour around the presence of the anachronistic Christmas tree, a German tradition introduced later by Queen Victoria’s husband. It works. 

(One must remind oneself that this is entertainment and not a documentary.)

The play opens with all the Bennet sisters married save Mary, played by Kate Dion-Richard, the book-loving, piano-playing sister who chooses the single life over any arranged marriage her family proposes. 

Enter eligible, shy, bookish bachelor, Arthur de Bourgh, played by Matthew MacDonald-Bain, who has recently inherited his uncle’s title and grand home. In a quick flash, it’s clear to see how things will end up and, more importantly, who will end up with whom but, ah, the journey to the conclusion is the pleasure. The trip to true love takes many humourous twists and turns before the curtain comes down on the satisfying conclusion.  

The scene changes are deftly handled. When two actors are setting up for a new scene in the background, in the foreground two gentlemen are pouring themselves a drink with elegance and grace. As one fills the other’s glass, it is held up for a second, more generous pour, extending the vignette just long enough to allow the actors to seamlessly be ready in the background. 

The set is sumptuous. I particularly loved the wallpaper and the aforementioned window. The music was lovely and the costumes not over the top. The lighting enhanced everything. There was one character, when faced away from us, who was hard to hear but otherwise, from our vantage point half way up the theatre, the sights and sounds were distinct. 

The other complaint was that the actors didn’t wait for the laughter to die down before they continued the dialogue. It made it hard to make out what they were saying. My hunch is, that since it’s still early in the run, that problem will gradually be solved. 

My companion for the evening is a Jane Austen fan who got all of the allusions to the original story line. Even from my more ignorant stance, I laughed a lot. My companion loved this production. I certainly enjoyed myself. The thunderous applause, enthusiastic whoops and standing ovation made it clear the rest of the audience enjoyed themselves too. 

This comedy of manners, mixed with British farce is a good costume romp. Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley plays at the Arts Club Granville Island stage through Jan. 4. Go to artsclub.com for information and tickets. The venue is wheelchair accessible and the parking we found on Granville Island this time of year was free after 6 p.m.

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