Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Midweek Musing: What a weekend!

Come and watch Pride and Prejudice at an old stately home, she said. Yes, I said. And that was just the beginning ...




Knowing I would be coming to stay for a few days, my dear friend planned the final burst of activities for her team's participation in a massive international scavenger hunt for when she could enlist my services for photography and video. I cannot show you any of that, as the competition is in progress, but to those who thought my visit to Lindisfarne Holy Island was for breathing and contemplation, I must apologise for misleading you. That was not the purpose at all, despite such serene photographs as I can show you from our afternoon on the island.




The rest of the afternoon and most of Saturday were also taken up with scavenger hunt activities, before the main event of the weekend: Pride and Prejudice adapted for stage by Illyria Theatre Company. We arrived at the house, and I gasped. (I did a lot of that this weekend). Wow. A Regency era home, in gorgeous sandstone, with gardens and lawns and a view of the river ... sigh. (I did a lot of sighing, too). 
Five actors, all playing multiple parts (although the actor playing Lizzie Bennett only added one to her list, a couple of hilarious appearances as Mrs Hill, the housekeeper at Longbourne). I cannot tell you all the things I appreciated from an artistic perspective, or more simply and profoundly loved as a captivated member of the audience. I'll recount what comes to mind as I write, to give you a little taste of the wonder of the event. 


The commitment of the actors to their characters, extra challenging when shifting in and out of them throughout the action. The costume changes were most necessary for depicting which character was on stage with the actor when the character was in more of a supporting role to the main action. The actors were consistent in their voice, demeanour, posture, for each character they portrayed, that even without the costumes you would know the difference between D'Arcy, Wickham, and Collins (yep, those three by the same actor, who also played Mary!); between Mrs Bennett, Bingley, and Mrs Gardner; between Jane and Lydia, or Mr Bennet, Mr Gardner, Col. Fitzwilliam, Caroline Bingley, and Lady Catherine De Burgh (yes, those characters all embodied by the same person!). Kitty was played by four of the five actors during the course of the action, and D'Arcy's coat and a wig on various other actors represented him on stage for such memorable encounters as with Wickham and Collins. The technicalities for all this were handled with aplomb, and with only one or two slight hitches, which were also handled with ease of skill and good humour by all. 
Apparently some have criticised the abridgement of this version of the play: I have no quarrels with it, though Heather and I agreed that our intimate familiarity with both the story by Austen, and the history of adaptations of Pride and Prejudice, enabled us to fill in the gaps and appreciate this re-telling. I am sure I have written here before of my love for adaptations and re-tellings of stories, and the way that they participate in an ongoing conversation with the original story, which really is never 'original', because it is new every time it is encountered, whether read in a book, seen on the stage or a screen or canvas, or heard in music. (For more on that, I refer you to my scholarly work of articles and a certain PhD thesis just finished). 
I loved the humour and intimacy in the relationship between Lizzy and her Aunt Gardner, but didn't think the intimacy between Lizzy and her father was quite as evident as it is in other tellings of the story. I loved being front row on our rug, but felt a little disconnected and as if the actors were talking above the audience, because it is difficult for actors to make eye contact downwards from a raised stage to those sitting on the grass. The dance between Lizzy and D'Arcy at Netherfield was really nicely staged, as was the reading of the letters. Some letters were read by the family all huddled together in a repeated staging that, for me did two things: 1, it drew attention to the family dynamic of the time, and the intimate involvement in each other in the life of the whole; 2, conversely, it highlighted Mary's place on the outer of much of the action and the life of the family, as she was always at the back of the huddle, looking over the shoulders of everyone else, and for the final huddle, she gave up and left the scene (or that's how I interpreted the action there). Other staging decisions that I thought were effective were the use of minimal furniture - a bench, two chairs, and two wicker chests - and the use of scenes in carriages, including the two male actors taking turns to represent the driver and horses (coconut shells), on their haunches in front of the others on bench/chest carriage, with a 'yah' to signal to all the actors, so that all bounced along on the road together. Wonderfully choreographed. 

There was more, I am certain, but that will suffice to depict the causes of my sighs of wonder throughout the evening. We were all also grateful for a perfect evening of weather. 

Just in case you thought that was enough joy for one weekend, apparently Heather thought not. For after she had led church in the morning and we'd had lunch, we returned to Paxton House for their Summer Fayre, and took a turn about the gardens, and a tour of the house itself. 


The view of the river

The house from the lawn / croquet pitch

Garden, inviting lane

Lily pond. Sigh. 

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I love this grass.The curved part of the building
behind it is the servants' passage from kitchen
on the left (the right of the house as you look at it)
to the house. 

The servant's passage.



I want to live there. Georgian houses are my favourites, there was elegant Chippendale furniture in every room, beautiful wallpaper and hangings and staircases and furnishings and .... I got to play the box piano in the withdrawing room (squee! but I couldn't think of anything much to play!!), and Heather sang in the purpose build picture gallery that now hosts many music performances (the acoustics are lovely). Heather delighted in my delight as with each room we entered I gasped and sighed like a kid in a candy store. I can't even begin on the library. I can't show you inside, no photos allowed: sorry. 


Happy Sarah at Paxton House
Tea room entrance.
Still not finished, we went upstairs to the art gallery, I think in the old hayloft above the stables (now tea rooms, complete with booths set within the old corales if that's the right word where the horses were kept). The current exhibition is inspired by Shakespeare, and our favourite pieces were the most expensive in the room (of course), specifically Shakespearean in their composition. Mixed media, using cut out sections of play books with quotes and headings, gold and black, with birds featuring in all of them, there was a piece depicting the use of music in the plays that I especially liked. 

Sigh. 

To top off the weekend, we brought home cakes from the tea rooms and watched The Lizzy Bennett Diaries, an online, interactive, mixed social media retelling of Pride and Prejudice that kept us up till 1am because how could we stop when it got to the good bits ...? 

What a weekend, indeed. Shared with a friend who delights in the same things I do. What a weekend. 

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