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There's life yet in Austen's romance

That Darcy chap is a bit of a numbskull, isn't he? A man in love, no doubt, with a good heart for sure. But he doesn't make things easy for anyone.

Indeed, 200 years have passed since Jane Austen's eloquent novel of manners was published. Two whole centuries since the original 'will they/won't they' captivated readers with the tricky Darcy fellow and his unconventional pursuit of Elizabeth Bennet.

What have we learned from numerous film and stage adaptations of Pride and Prejudice? A few things, one of them being that casting is crucial.

The other is that lime green is an awful eyesore for theatre audiences. The Gate's latest production of Austen's most famous novel is a perfectly acceptable piece of work, but good grief, that stage is hideous.

It's all so… green, and a tad too basic for our liking. And what's with the painted countryside backdrop? A bit cheap, no? It simply won't do, Darcy. Now, we've had our moan. On to the important bit.

You know the drill. Elizabeth meets Mr Darcy (aloof), her sister Jane falls for his mate, Bingley (a gent), and their mother worries about losing the house to a sleazy old heir, Mr Collins.

The latter has his eye on Elizabeth and her sisters (there are five of them). As long as they marry someone of upstanding taste and impeccable wealth, the mammy will be happy. The father is more interested in his books.

And so we have a quaint yet wordy account of unrequited love, monetary concerns, social prejudice and half-hearted proposals. Despite the numerous sub-plots and twists, it's all about Liz and Darcy.

His aunt reckons she is punching above her weight. He says all the wrong things. Elizabeth wonders why, when there are so many other suitors to avail of, she is attracted to the boy who was mean to her at the dance. Because he's the handsome and mysterious hero of the piece, that's why.

The follow-through, though occasionally bland and restless, relies heavily on Elizabeth's ability to double up as both narrator and leading woman. The excellent Lorna Quinn makes it look easy.

It's a delightful turn, and in the affable Sam O'Mahony, Quinn also has a relatively convincing Darcy to work alongside. Stephen Brennan and Eleanor Methven provide belly laughs as Liz's folks, and Mark O'Regan (Mr Collins) slips comfortably into another amusing villain role.

A busy piece, then, but it's the smaller scenes that work better. It's not always the most engaging of plays - there are no extravagant pay-offs, and the first half could do with more of that second-act spark and wit. Maybe we've watched too many screen adaptations; perhaps the set-up is just too predictable. An amiable production, all the same. We hate the green, though.

Running until September 20


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