Arts Club Theatre
Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley
by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon

Dates and Venue November 15 – December 30 , 2018, Mon–Thu at 7:30pm, Fri & Sat at 8 pm, Wed at 1:30pm, and Sat at 2pm. (Holiday showtimes) Mon, Dec 24, at 12:30 pm & 5:30pm; and Sun, Dec 30, at 1pm & 7pm | Granville Island Stage, Granville Islannd

Director Roy Surette Lighting Design Conor Moore Set Design Ted Roberts Costume Designer Amy McDougall Sound Designer Heather Kemski Stage Manager Pamela Jakobs

Reviewer John Jane

It just had to happen! Two California based playwrights have written a Christmas themed sequel to Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice. On the outset, this is an undertaking that seems at best, opportunistic and at worst, exploitive. Notwithstanding that Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon have recycled Austin’s readily developed characters and to an extent utilizes a similar free indirect style of narrative, the play manages to succeed on many levels.

Christmas at Pemberley rediscovers our Miss Mary Bennet, a quintessential bluestocking, middle sister and plainest of the Bennet siblings. According to A Memoir of Jane Austen, considered the accepted Austin canon, Mary eventually married her Uncle Philips' law clerk and lived boringly ever after. But here she turns up a couple of years after Elizabeth marries Fitzwilliam Darcy at her older sister (now referred to as Lizzie) and brother-in-law’s Christmas family gathering. While Mary may not exactly be looking for someone to love, she is definitely seeking “a larger life.”

Mary (Kate Dion-Richard) has matured since the events of the famous novel. She is still socially awkward, even clumsy, but with a new found wisdom and keen observation. Mary’s intellect is certainly not immediately apparent to her siblings (only Lizzie, Jane and Lydia make it into this play), yet very obvious to the unsophisticated Arthur De Bourgh (Matthew MacDonald-Bain).

While predictable, Christmas at Pemberley is a delightful and highly entertaining romantic comedy that offers far more than regular seasonal fare. Still set in early nineteenth-century England with all the trappings of a Jane Austin period piece, yet written with a modernist sensibility.

Kate Dion-Richard is charmingly bookish as the unlikely heroine, down to the granny glasses and a pretty nose perpetually stuck in the pages of a book. Matthew MacDonald-Bain (where do actors find all these double-barrelled names) is ludicrously droll as the eccentric Arthur. Baraka Rahmani almost steals the show as the notoriously frivolous and coquettish Lydia. The roles of Darcy and Bingley get short shrift here, but Chris Walters and Tim Carlson deliver with ardour.

Director Roy Surette handles the production with respect for both his actors and the Jane Austin legacy. Ted Roberts’ elegant set, including a gorgeous Christmas tree (artfully decorated on one side, bare on the other) and Amy McDougall’s sumptuous period specific clothing provide an extra level of production quality.

Christmas at Pemberley is a welcome departure from more versions of Dickens’ Christmas Carol. It may well be a play with many future mountings at this time of year – but don’t depend on it – go see it now.

© 2018 John Jane