Stormy return for Mr Darcy

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Dark skies matched Mr Darcy’s brooding countenance as he returned to his stately home in Derbyshire.

The hero of Pride and Prejudice was back at Renishaw Hall, 22 years after the estate doubled as the fictional Pemberley in a BBC adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel.

Mother Nature did her best to wreck his homecoming, sending heavy rain and thunder to drive a small group of the welcoming party home early.

But the Dunkirk spirit was evident among those remaining stalwarts who packed away their picnics, wrapped themselves in waterproofs, brandished their brollies and dug themselves in to watch two hours of open-air theatre.

On stage, the super troupers from Chapterhouse Theatre Company braved the elements….taking a brief break ten minutes into the show to let the downpour subside. But it wasn’t long before it tipped it down again.

Determined that rain wasn’t going to stop play for a second time, the performers carried on with their production in spite of sodden clothing and dripping hair.

They even milked a few laughs out of the atrocious conditions, sweeping a layer of water off a card table and using a wig to mop up the moisture on another piece of furniture.

Plenty of laughs were generated by Helen Fullerton in her delightful characterisation of the loud, fussy Mrs Bennett and by Liam Webster with his over-the-top fawning as the flamboyant parson Mr Collins.

The cast of eight took on a multitude of performers in a production which featured just four Bennett sisters, instead of the five in Austen’s novel.

Battling against the elements, the multi-talented cast acted out of their (very wet) skins, sang, danced and played musical instruments.

However, the rain beating down on brollies meant some of the dialogue was hard to hear, not good for anyone who wasn’t familiar with the story and its interwoven relationships.

Samantha Hopkins gave a confident performance as Elizabeth Bennet, while Adam Grayson projected his voice well in the dual roles of dad Mr Bennett and the anti-social Mr Darcy, apt given that daughters occasionally look for traits of their fathers in husbands-to-be.

But wet weather and open-air theatre are not grounds for a marriage made in heaven, even in the stunning garden of Renishaw Hall.

After the touring production’s visit to Renishaw, Helen Fullerton said: “This year has been a particularly wet and windy summer and although we have been quite lucky with the weather during the shows, I must admit that Renishaw was one of the wettest we have done!

“One of the main things we as a cast had to think about was the projection of our voices, as we had to contend with the wind rain and the sound of rain hitting umbrellas!

“Chapterhouse’s usual policy is to go ahead in all weather, unless it becomes dangerous, so as long as there is an audience member who sticks it out - then we will always deliver the full show.

“The audience at Renishaw were so strong and determined, they stuck with us even though they were soaked!”

GAY BOLTON