WHEN Newcastle Theatre Company staged the premiere last year of member Emma Wood’s Mr Bennet’s Bride, a prequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, they wondered what the audience response would be.
Austen’s novel centring on the five Bennet sisters, with the two oldest being of an age where they are expected to marry, has been popular with readers since it was published 200 years ago, and the film and television adaptations have been audience favourites.
In Mr Bennet’s Bride, Emma Wood draws on references in the novel to the backgrounds of the girls’ ill-matched parents to show how they came together 25 years earlier.
As things turned out, Mr Bennet’s Bride was a hit with theatregoers.
The show became the third biggest audience draw in the company’s 57-year history, selling 98 per cent of seats in its three-week run. Some audience members enjoyed it so much that they returned for a second viewing.
Word about the play spread beyond Newcastle, with the organisers of Canberra’s annual Jane Austen Festival asking if the NTC production could be staged as part of their 2015 event.
So Mr Bennet’s Bride will have three performances at Canberra’s Repertory Theatre on Saturday and Sunday, April 11 and 12.
The following Saturday, April 18, there will be two shows in Sydney, at Chatswood’s Zenith Theatre.
Novocastrians haven’t been forgotten. NTC will host three stagings at its Lambton theatre on Easter weekend, with matinee and evening shows on Saturday, April 4, and a matinee on Sunday, April 5.
And Emma Wood, who is now living in Canberra, has received other good news about the play in the past week.
Sydney-based David Spicer Productions, a theatrical agency that represents predominantly Australian works, is now publishing plays through new subsidiary DSPress.
Mr Bennet’s Bride is the first play offered in book form.
The NTC production, again being rehearsed by director Julie Black, has new cast members playing four of the 10 characters, as some of the original actors had other commitments.
James Chapman has joined the cast in the role of James, the Mr Bennet of the play’s title.
James is 28 and trying to ignore his father’s demand that he get married almost immediately.
The widowed father, Robert, is worried that if James, his only child, doesn’t marry and produce an heir, their vast rural estate will fall into the hands of a greedy cousin who has just become father to a son.
While James doesn’t get along with dad, he’s grateful for the advice and support his father’s live-in sister, Mary, gives him.
Tracey Gordon, who played Mary last year, has returned to the role and she is enjoying it as much as the first time. She also sees the inclusion of four new cast members as giving the storytelling freshness.
Chapman auditioned for the role of James before the play’s first staging, and he’s excited to now have the chance to play the initially grumpy loner who is attracted to a young woman whose parents see him as a good catch.
Other returning actors are Lance Hawkins as Robert, Cassandra Griffin as Emily Gardiner, the 17-year-old who catches the eye of James, Malcolm Young as the avaricious cousin, Benedict Collins, Stephanie McDonald as another would-be bride, Clara Bowman, and Alison Murphy as Clara’s mother.
Other newcomers are Patrick Campbell and Fran Hodgson, as Emily’s scheming parents, and Jenny Brook, as the observant housekeeper.
Mr Bennet’s Bride can be seen at the NTC Theatre, 90 De Vitre Street, Lambton, on Saturday, April 4, at 2pm and 8pm, and on Sunday, April 5, at 2pm. Tickets: $29, concession $23. Bookings: 49524958; newcastletheatrecompany.com.au.