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Sunday, November 25, 2018

A Return to Jane Austen for a Holiday Celebration! Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley at the Citadel

Although Christmas is still a month away, this week I felt it creeping closer and closer. Part of that was the switch-over to Christmas music on the radio station my son prefers, and part of it was taking in Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley at the Citadel Theatre. For me, it was particularly fun to return to the land of Jane Austen, having immersed myself in the world of the Regency Era as part of my role as Assistant Director of Sense and Sensibility two seasons ago. The show, although lighter and funnier than Pride and Prejudice, has much to recommend itself to Austen aficionados. You will re-meet four of the five Bennet sisters, Mr. Darcy, and Mr. Bingley. For the most part, they are recognizable from the novel, but changes to their lives in the years since allow for new discoveries. 

The show centers on the middle sister, Miss Mary Bennet, played with a prickly charm and much wit by Toronto-based Mikaela Davies. Mary is the forgotten middle sister, left to her books and piano as her other sisters have gone on to marriage and other adventures. She clearly longs for something more, but understands her position in the world leaves her few options. She has come to Pemberley to spend Christmas with her sisters and their husbands and to have a little escape from her life spent with her aging parents. Enter Lord Arthur de Bourgh (Umed Amin), Mr. Darcy's cousin, who shares Mary's love for books and knowledge as well as her social awkwardness. The two seemed perfectly matched, until... Well, until a rival for Arthur's affections shows up in the form of Anne de Bourgh (the hilarious Gianna Vacirca). As the rules of Austen's society interfere with the budding romance, the laughter ensues as the romantic entanglements are sorted out. 

Davies and Amin are delightful as the central couple. Their awkwardness is countered by their intelligence and they share a lovely chemistry. As Mr. Darcy, local favourite Mathew Hulshof is perfectly cast. He looks and sounds the part and he's layered in a sensitivity that no doubt has developed as Mr. Darcy has gotten used to being a part of the Bennet family. Cameron Kneteman is wonderfully charming as Charles Bingley, and he made me remember how much I enjoyed the character in the novel. The youngest Bennet sister in attendance, Lydia (Emma Houghton), was suitably and humorously flighty. It was interesting to see the two older sisters, Lizzie (Allison Edwards-Crewe) and Jane (Emma Laishram), take a back seat to Mary in this story. I'm not sure if it was the writing in the script or the performance of Edwards-Crewe that made Lizzie seem more unkind to Mary than I remembered her being. I actually kind of wished the two older sisters were played by the opposite actresses - but that might have more to do with my personal impressions of the source novel and the characters and I am sure that there are many who disagree. I think layered in there is a presumption of what other people want in their lives, as the two older sisters, in their contented marriages, assume that Mary is perfectly happy with her life of books and music and give little thought to her wanting anything more. Fortunately, despite the interventions of Anne de Bourgh, the sisters and their husbands manage to redirect romance in the right direction. 

Director Nancy McAlear and her cast and design team have done a wonderful job telling this story. It's the perfect way for any Austen fan to welcome in the Christmas season!

Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley runs to December 9th. Click here for more information and for tickets. 

Photo Credit: EPIC Photography

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