Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Joanna Tincey: Pride And Prejudice

By | Published on Thursday 24 November 2016


When I heard about this fresh adaptation of Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’, I knew I had to investigate, not least because it’s already won much praise while out on tour. Luckily for Londoners, it comes to Jermyn Street just in time to be a rather nice pre-Christmas treat.
Despite all the characters involved, the play is a two hander, performed by the show’s creator Joanna Tincey alongside her husband Nick Underwood. I spoke to Joanna ahead of the London run.

CM: I think most theatre-goers will have, at the very least, a vague idea of what ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is about, but just in case, can you tell us a bit about what happens in the show?
JT: Simply put, it’s a joyous, moving and witty love story. Mr Bingley moves to Netherfield Park with his sister and before long his friend Darcy comes to pay him a visit. Mrs Bennet is delighted by Mr Bingley’s arrival, as she is desperate to find a match for her five daughters and infuriated by her husband’s lack of interest.

Bingley takes a shine to Jane the eldest of her daughters but Bingley’s friend Darcy doesn’t make quite the same impression on Elizabeth, the second eldest and our heroine. The younger Bennet daughters are more interested in the regiment of soldiers that are encamped nearby.  Wickham, the most dashing of the military men has a murky past that involves connections to Darcy and his family…Elizabeth is drawn into a friendship with him and events are set in motion that will change the course of each character’s future.

CM: Only two actors, yet all those characters – what motivated you to adapt the story for just two performers?
JT: I had been involved in several productions of classic texts that used a ‘multi-role’ style of performance (where actors play more than one character and change on stage in front of an audience). What struck me was how clear this made the characters and the language. The characters need to be distinct and connect with the audience and you need to use the language to take the audience with you, so they know who you are, where you are, what you want in any given moment. It makes the text really active and alive, so I wanted to take that approach to a classic novel – and ‘Pride and Prejudice’ has always been one of my favourites.

CM: Have you cut out any significant characters or plot points? How much of the language is Austen’s and how much is yours?
JT: Every word in the play is Austen’s. But in order to make the production a sensible length, inevitably some characters and plot points have been snipped, although I believe every key moment of the story is there. Austen’s plot is so wonderfully crafted that you can’t hack it about too much or you lose the heart of the story – and nobody would want that to happen. Character wise, Nick and I play twenty-one between us.

CM: What made you want to stage ‘Pride And Prejudice’ in particular? In what ways have you made it relevant for the contemporary viewer?
JT: When I was thinking of classic novels to bring to life with our ‘multi-role’ style, ‘Pride And Prejudice’ struck me as a great choice. Austen had family members read her work aloud as she was writing it, so there is already a ‘performability’ about her writing. Her characters are so distinct too – a gift for any actor to play. The characters are so well drawn that you don’t really need to do very much at all to make them speak to a modern audience – they are timeless in that sense.

There is also fresh wit about Austen’s writing that when you speak it feels wonderfully contemporary – our aim is to bring that to life in this production. There is so much wit in her narration, as well as her dialogue, that doesn’t usually find its way into adaptations. We’ve put that narration into the mouths of the characters, they narrate themselves to the audience so you get this layering of perspectives as we move through the story. Our relationship with the audience mimics that of Austen’s with her reader, and that relationship is one that is really immediate – it changes night to night. That’s what makes it new, fresh and exciting for us and hopefully our audience.

CM: Are you a fan of Austen generally? Why this, and not, say, ‘Emma’?
JT: Yes I’m definitely an Austen fan, all the more so after working with her work so closely for so long! ‘Emma’ is actually one of my favourite novels, but for our first production as Two Bit Classics I felt that ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is so iconic, the love-story between Darcy and Lizzy so timeless, that it seemed a natural choice. There are so many double-acts in the story that make it appropriate for our two actor style – not just Darcy and Elizabeth but Mr and Mrs Bennet, Kitty and Lydia, Bingley and Jane, Lizzy and Jane, Jane and Bingley, and on and on. Darcy and Elizabeth also come to see beyond one another’s masks – they misunderstand initially and then look deeper. There seemed something really symbolic about two actors playing the ‘lovers’ but also all of the other characters that surround them and who bring about the love-story in its full sense.

CM: Is your off-stage relationship with your co-performer a help or a hindrance when it comes to rehearsal and performance?
JT: Perhaps a bit of both…! We have a great short-hand and an instinctive way of working with one another and it’s a great joy to create something and see it grow together. But when we’re tired we’re perhaps not quite as polite as we would be with other people!

CM: You’ve already done quite a lot of touring with the show – how have audiences responded thus far?
JT: Audience response has been terrific. We’ve had wonderful reviews everywhere as well as tweets, emails and audience feedback from people who know and love the novel and from people who have never read any Austen, to say how much they have enjoyed it and how refreshing it was to see it performed in this way.

CM: What’s next for it after the London run?
JT: Well we shall see – after three tours and a London run, Darcy, Lizzy and the other 21 of us may take a small break! We are looking at possible options to tour the show internationally…

CM: Can you see yourself staging similar adaptations in the future?
JT: Absolutely, this is a really exciting way of working for us and we are keen to take our approach to other classics – lots of ideas in the pipeline…

CM: What else do you have planned? Any unfulfilled ambitions?
JT: I’d like to look at classic film and think about how to re-invent it for the stage using two actors, exploring how actors can grow a relationship with a live audience using narration and dialogue in the way we do with this show. There are also other classic novels we have our eye on… nothing concrete to announce yet but hopefully it won’t be long before Two Bit Classics are on the road again.

‘Pride And Prejudice’ is on at Jermyn Street Theatre from 30 Nov-21 Dec. See the venue website here for all the details.

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Photo: Carrie Johnson