It’s a pleasure to have a chance to connect with other Jane Austen enthusiasts. Like many people, my passion for Jane Austen grew hugely with the 1996 mini-series of Pride and Prejudice. The theatricality of the characters and the beauty of her dialogue delivered by that magnificent cast made that series one that was watched time and time again for me!
My first full length play (Water Child) was produced in Newcastle, Australia in 2012. Having won an award for that play and received very enthusiastic reviews and comments from audience members, I was keen to write another. But I had no particular idea about what until one day, like a gift, an idea presented itself: Mr and Mrs Bennet. What inspired this unlikely union? I read Pride and Prejudice again eagerly with those characters in focus, and noted that very little context is provided for their past.
Chapter 42 opens with reflections on their courtship and marriage:
‘HAD Elizabeth’s opinion been all drawn from her own family, she could not have formed a very pleasing picture of conjugal felicity or domestic comfort. Her father, captivated by youth and beauty, and that appearance of good humour which youth and beauty generally give, had married a woman whose weak understanding and illiberal mind had, very early in their marriage, put an end to all real affection for her. Respect, esteem, and confidence had vanished for ever; and all his views of domestic happiness were overthrown.’
This outline inspired me to imagine the details of their courtship. Because I am a playwright and not a novelist, it didn’t occur to me to try and write in novel form. The characters, so lifelike and engaging in the films and mini-series, just came to me as people, seeking a stage to inhabit.
The 2014 premiere production at Newcastle Theatre Company and subsequent tour in 2015 were a huge hit for Austen fans and theatre goers in general. Delighted to have a chance to see these much loved characters fleshed out as younger people, audiences also enjoyed the chance to make connections with other characters of interest. The play is set in Longbourn, 25 years before the novel Pride and Prejudice opens.
The characters are: James Bennet, a younger Mr Bennet of Pride & Prejudice; Robert Bennet, his father; Mary Ellingworth, Robert’s sister and James’s aunt; Benedict Collins, the father of Mr William Collins of Pride & Prejudice; Mrs Graves, Housekeeper; George Gardiner, attorney at law; Sarah Gardiner, his wife; their daughter Emily Gardiner, a younger Mrs Bennet of Pride & Prejudice; Mrs Bowman and Miss Clara Bowman.
The plot is as follows: James Bennet, the twenty eight year old son of Robert Bennet, is the next in line to inherit the attractive estate of Longbourn. With the shadow of the entail to the Collins family looming large, Robert mounts pressure on the young Mr Bennet to find a suitable match – but his unwillingness to play by the rules sets in motion a series of events that are both comic and at times moving. The family attorney at law is drawn into the affair and finds a way to throw his attractive but vulgar daughter in the way of a young man above her station. James sees an opportunity to spite his father – but at what cost?
At the premiere production at Newcastle Theatre Company, most of the seats were sold out before opening night. The play was the third biggest selling production in the 57 year history of the company. Audiences laughed and cried and bought tickets to come again. Austen fans and others who had never read or seen Pride and Prejudice left raving.
And here’s what the critics thought: ‘…sophisticated and stylish…’ – Michelle Gosper, Sydney Arts Guide; ‘…a play that charms the heart… a cleverly layered comedy…’ – Michael Byrne, Independent Reviewer; ‘… a delight...’ – Ken Longworth, Newcastle Herald; ‘ …a delightful play with a good plot, clever dialogue and strong characterization.’ – Pamela Whalan, Jane Austen Society of Australia Newsletter
Emma Wood is an English and drama teacher as well as a playwright, actor and director, from Newcastle, Australia. To purchase Mr Bennet’s Bride go to http://www.lulu.com/shop/emma-wood/mr-bennets-bride/paperback/product-22046504.html. For more information: https://www.facebook.com/mrbennetsbride/. Performance Rights available at: http://www.davidspicer.com.au/shows/mr-bennets-bride. Emma can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org