Welcome to British Isles Friday! British Isles Friday is a weekly event for sharing all things British and Irish — reviews, photos, opinions, trip reports, guides, links, resources, personal stories, interviews, and research posts. Join us each Friday to link your British and Irish themed content and to see what others have to share. The link list is at the bottom of this post. Pour a cup of tea or lift a pint and join our link party!
Last week, I reviewed the film Oranges and Sunshine and learned about the history of transporting British children to other continents, under non-transparent schemes. Tina reviewed the companion book to the Netflix series, The Crown — it looks really useful for answering all the history questions that come up while watching. Sim previewed a film called The Bookshop, set in England in 1959. Jean enjoyed The Story of English in 100 Words. Heather reviewed a fantasy / Regency romance series, The Baleful Godmother series, and liked them, for the most part. Becky reviewed one book by Charles Dickens, The Battle of Life, and one book about him, Mr. Dickens and His Carol.
As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, I bought myself a solo front-row seat to see Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley as a reward for completing my NaNoWriMo challenge. My project for National Novel Writing Month included many characters who were Jane Austen fans, so this was the perfect play for me.Summary: The play Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley is a sequel to Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, picking up the story of the Bennet sisters two years after Jane and Elizabeth married Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy. The family is gathering at the Darcy residence on the Pemberley estate for Christmas. Jane and Lizzy and their husbands have a chance to get to know the bookish middle sister, Mary, who has been tending the home fires. She is wittier and more talented than they remembered — has she matured or were they missing something all along?
Mary is more-or-less resigned to her fate as the spinster sister. Then along comes a man who is even more awkward than she is. Lord Arthur de Bourgh was, until recently, happily ensconced at Oxford. His title is new and so is the news that he inherited Rosings Park. Remember stuffy and controlling Lady Catherine and her daughter Anne, who expected to marry Mr. Darcy? Lady Catherine has died and, to everyone’s surprise because Lady Catherine had insisted otherwise, Rosings Park goes to Arthur, the male heir, rather than Anne.
Mary and Arthur bond over maps and books about natural history. But, their combined awkwardness and other circumstances conspire to confuse and confound their developing relationship.
Thoughts: This play was a delight. The many laughs and warm holiday moments wrap around timeless Austen themes about the complexity of defining one’s own identity within the demands of family and society. Happiness lies somewhere along the axis between sheltered introversion and outward sociability, but exactly where is tricky to find and different for each of us. Likewise, appropriate responsibility rests somewhere between freedom and stricture.
There are a few inside jokes for those of us who are familiar with Pride and Prejudice, but there is plenty of fun for the Austen neophyte as well. I appreciated being able to quickly understand the characters after recently re-watching the 1995 BBC mini-series with Colin Firth.
Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley is a new play. At least two theaters in the US produced it last year and several more did this year. Theaters are always looking for good holiday-themed reasons for people to fill the seats in December.
From the photographs, this play has already established a tradition of race-neutral casting. I found an article from the LA Times reflecting on the nuances of color-blind and color-conscious casting. I was aware of color-conscious casting in the modern take on Macbeth that I saw last year. As the article mentions, Hamilton changed how we’re all seeing and relating to skin color on stage.
Speaking of Hamilton, it opened in London this week. The cast, with Lin-Manuel Miranda, made this amazing mash-up of British pop and rock with songs from Hamilton:
The article in the LA Times points out that there are myriads of reasons and ways to be color-blind or color-conscious. In the case of Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley , the point seems to be simply “admire the acting.” At least, that’s how it worked for me. Four women, who don’t look alike or sound alike, convinced me that they were sisters by how they related to one another. I find that hopeful this Christmas season.
Speaking of how they sound, the actors didn’t really aim for English accents in this production. Instead, they used their most formal, most carefully enunciated, actor voices. That, and the Englishness of the lines in the script, was enough to make the magic happen and transport us to Regency England.
The set and costumes, of course, helped with that magic.
If a theater near you produces Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley next year, go enjoy it!