THEATRE: On the hunt for a bride
FAMILY TIES: Back, from left, Derek Fisher as George Gardiner, Dean Blackford as James Bennet and Lance Hawkins as Robert Bennet. Front, from left, Alison Cox as Sarah Gardiner, Cassandra Griffin as Emily Gardiner and Tracey Gordon as Mary Ellingsworth. Picture: Peter StoopLOVE and marriage, in the words of a Frank Sinatra song hit, ‘‘go together like a horse and carriage’’. That’s not necessarily the case in Newcastle writer Emma Wood’s new play, Mr Bennet’s Bride.
Mr Bennet’s Bride, which premieres at Newcastle Theatre Company’s Lambton venue on March 8, shows how the parents of the five Bennet sisters in Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice came together.
But you don’t have to be familiar with the book or the television series and various films based on it to enjoy the play.
Actor Dean Blackford, who is cast as the future bridegroom, James Bennet, hadn’t read the story or seen it on a screen when he auditioned for the production.
However, his reading of the Mr Bennet’s Bride playscript at the audition so enthused him that he watched the television series after winning the role.
‘‘I loved the play and felt it stood well without knowledge of what happens in Pride and Prejudice,’’ he said.
‘‘But I soon found that I wanted to know what happened to Mr and Mrs Bennet later in life.’’
James Bennet is 28 when Mr Bennet’s Bride begins and is adept at avoiding the responsibilities his widowed father tries to give him.
The senior Mr Bennet, Robert, played by Lance Hawkins, wants his son to marry and father a son so that their rural estate, Longbourne, isn’t taken over by an obnoxious cousin, Benedict Collins (Malcolm Young), under the late 18th century laws if the Bennets don’t have a male heir.
James meets 17-year-old Emily Gardiner (Cassandra Griffin), the daughter of an attorney-at-law, George Gardiner (Derek Fisher), when accompanying his father to discuss a business matter with Gardiner.
Gardiner and his wife, Sarah (Alison Cox), see James as a good catch for their daughter and begin plotting to bring about a marriage.
James, though, who has recently warded off another potential bride (Stephanie McDonald) and her mother (Alison Murphy), still doesn’t see marriage as a prospect and shrugs off the heartfelt advice of his aunt, Mary (Tracey Gordon).
The play amusingly depicts the manouevring of the various parties.
Mr Bennet’s Bride is set 25years before the events of Pride and Prejudice and shows aspects of the parents that are reflected in their offspring in Jane Austen’s novel.
As a teenager, Emily is attracted to men in military uniforms, a characteristic that’s shared by her daughter Lydia in the Austen work.
James Bennet shows the dry wit in Mr Bennet’s Bride that his character displays in Pride and Prejudice when having to deal with the inanities of his wife and daughters.
Dean Blackford said James says at one point that he has no talent for small talk, but he knows how to make a point in a few sharp words, especially with his father.
Cassandra Griffin notes that the more youthful Emily has her head in the clouds and doesn’t do a lot of thinking.
‘‘She is a bit of fresh air, with a lot of spontaneity, in contrast to the first woman the audience sees who wants to be the bride for James. That woman is clearly playing the game,’’ she said.
Blackford and Griffin point to the contrast between the Bennet and Gardiner families. The Bennets, with the exception of peacemaker Mary, are cold and calculating, while the Gardiners are warm.
Mr Bennet’s Bride is directed by Julie Black, with author Emma Wood as assistant director.
Most of the cast members have appeared in stage versions of Jane Austen novels, including Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, and so enjoyed the experience that they auditioned for Emma Wood’s Austen-related story.
Mr Bennet’s Bride opens on Saturday, March 8, at 8pm, and plays Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, at 8pm, until March 22, plus 2pm matinees on Sunday, March 9, and Saturday, March 15. Tickets: $28, concession $22. Bookings: NTC Theatre, 90 De Vitre Street, Lambton, 49524958,3pm to 6pm weekdays, or newcastletheatrecompany南京夜网.au.