‘Pride and Prejudice’ reinvented as gender-neutral two-hander
Jane Austen’s 1813 “Pride and Prejudice” is one of the most popular romance novels with lively characters bantering and arguing with each other. This prototype of the contemporary romantic comedy has spawned many screen and stage adaptations, including a 2013 two-actor version by Two Bit Classics, which arrived in Seoul last month.
There are so many distinct characters in “Pride and Prejudice,” but this adaptation by Joanna Tincey, created on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the novel’s publication, stands out by casting only two actors.
This no-frills approach makes audiences focus on one-on-one relationships and the conversations between the characters, rediscovering each of them in a new way.
There are 21 characters of all ages in the play, from the five Bennet sisters and their parents to new neighbor Charles and Caroline Bingley and their friend Fitzwilliam Darcy.
Unlike traditional theater in which women play Lizzy and Jane Bennet, while men take on Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley, this play assigns its two actors’ roles regardless of gender.
Actor 1, alternately actresses Kim Ji-hyun and Jung Woon-sun, plays Lizzy, Mrs. Bennet, Lydia, Mr. Bingley, Caroline Bingley, Charlotte Lucas, Mr. Denny, Lady Catherine de Bourgh and Mrs. Gardiner.
Actor 2, Lee Dong-ha, Yoon Na-moo and Lee Hyoung-hoon, takes on the roles of Mr. Darcy, Jane, Mr. Bennet, Kitty, Mr. Collins, Wickham, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, William Lucas, Mr. Gardiner and the housekeeper of Pemberley.
The play runs for two hours and 40 minutes with a 15-minute intermission, which is pretty lengthy but necessary to convey the issues of love and marriage in Victorian era England.
Korean director Park So-young, who collaborated with the original director Abigail Anderson, said when she met the British creators of the play, she felt their love and respect for Austen.
“They were proud of this play which is faithful to the original novel. They chose to go two-handed because they thought it was the most fitting theatrical way to portray this vast romantic novel,” the director said.
Park said the roles are distributed based on the relationship between Lizzy and Darcy among many double acts in the novel.
“Lizzy and Darcy cannot be played by one person, so A1 plays Lizzy and A2 Darcy. Lizzy has many conversations with her sister Jane, so A2 plays Jane. Thus Darcy’s friend and Jane’s love interest Bingley is performed by A1,” Park said. “So the roles are allotted as needed. I think such a distribution of roles with no gender bias is the beginning of gender-free casting in theater.”
The transition between characters is subtle. When A1 holds a handkerchief, she is Mrs. Bennet; with a hand fan she is Caroline Bingley and she becomes Mr. Bingley when she pulls open her skirt.
A2 wears a hat to portray obsequious clergyman Collins, while buttoning up his coat represents Jane’s dress. Such simple yet symbolic props help the audiences to distinguish each character without too much confusion.
Actress Kim said it was different from just playing multiple supporting roles and a lead role as each character is alive, from beginning to end.
“Not a single character is functional, but each has their own story. The change between each character is fast-paced and I have to turn into another character in a flash. It is physically extreme too, but my co-star I can immerse ourselves into each other and the story more deeply in this two-hander,” Kim said.
The stripped-down set is reminiscent of a Georgian country house, but disintegrated. It could be Longbourn, where Mr. and Mrs. Bennet live with their five daughters; Netherfield, where Bingley moves in; or Pemberley, the luxurious manor of Darcy.
Starting with the famous first line, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife,” the 19th century novel still resonates with modern-day customs of love and marriage.
Four different marriages are described in the play and Austen asserts that marriage should be based on love and mutual attraction, not by pressure in money or social status.
“Pride and Prejudice” is staged at the Chungmu Art Center in central Seoul through Oct. 20.
Distribution of roles with no gender bias is the beginning of gender-free casting in theater.
Kim Ji-hyun, left, as Elizabeth Bennet and Lee Dong-ha as Mr. Darcy in novel-turned-play “Pride and Prejudice”
Kim Ji-hyun, right, as Charles Bingley