Meet the Characters

Because there are only two of us on stage and a cast of 21 characters, it is particularly important that we are able to convey the essence of the character immediately and in a way that makes an impact. We never want the audience to be thinking… “who’s that again?” At the same time we don’t want our performance to be a series of caricatures. We don’t want to lose all the humanity that exists in Jane Austen’s characters. We want to stage the experience of reading the novel where the characters start to feel like old friends but of course we have to do this in a condensed period of time.

Jo says

Austen’s genius is capturing the spirit in the detail. She writes in this great ‘sweet-spot’ on the spectrum between ‘larger than life’ and ‘people like us.’

In order to hit this sweet spot as actors, we’ll be asking lots questions as we start to find the characters for ourselves:

  • Are there any repeated bits of behaviour or words that recur for each character as we move through the story?
  • What does the character want at beginning of the story? Do they get what they want by the end?
  • How important does the character think they are/how much status do they think they have? How much status do they have really?
  • How is the character changed by what happens to them throughout the course of the story?
  • Is there a gap between a character’s self-knowledge and what the audience sees/knows about them? Does this change throughout the course of the story?
  • How do they speak when they are talking to other characters? How does Austen speak about them in the narration?
  • If the character were an animal, what would they be?
  • If the character were an item of clothing, what would they be?
  • If the character were a part of the body, what would they be?
  • If you had to sum up the character in one word, what would it be?
  • What is the character’s main flaw? How does this relate to what happens to them in the play?
What follows are some character notes that we made as we moved through rehearsals for the show. 

Follow us on Pinterest to see our mood-boards for each character: Pinterest

Mrs Bennet: played by Jo

“Oh you take delight in vexing me.  You have no compassion on my poor nerves”

Mrs Bennet’s frequently refers to her ‘poor nerves’ throughout the story.   She’s certainly led in all things, by her emotions rather than her head.
“What a dreadful state I am in.  I am frightened out of my wits; and have such tremblings and flutterings all over me.  And now here’s Mr. Bennet gone away, and I know he will fight Wickham, wherever he meets him, and then he will be killed, and what is to become of us all?” 

She’s very direct, she gets straight to what she is thinking:‘I do think…’ is an oft repeated phrase of hers and she’s already thinking of Mr. Bingley’s marrying one of her daughters before he has even moved in to Netherfield! But for all her directness, she is constantly changing her opinion.  One minute she loves the Lucases and the next minute she is calling them ‘artful people’.  One minute she is terrified that Mr Bennet will fight Mr Wickham and the next moment she is enraged that he is coming back to Longbourn without having done so.

This changeability (I suppose some might call it hypocrisy) makes her a great figure of fun.  I think it stems from a great insecurity.  “What is to become of us all?” is really a prime concern of hers.  The business of her life is to get her daughters well married because if she doesn’t, with the estate entailed, she is really frightened for the future.  She takes this threat very seriously but she can’t seem to get Mr Bennet to share her opinion. His way of handling her, is to see her as a figure of fun, and the more he teases her, the more worked up she gets.   

Her sense of status is a tricky one to understand, she is often trying to raise her status (by boasting of Jane’s beauty and the likelihood of her marrying Bingley for example) and she fiercely defends her family from perceived attack.  She often feels ‘cruelly used’ though, and that others are out to get her, which implies that she doesn’t think she has high status in the eyes of the world.

She feels like a Mother Hen to me:  quite clucky and busy on the ground but inclined to get her feathers ruffled and squawk and fly about in an ungainly way.
I think if she were an item of clothing she might be a handkerchief; something to mop up all the expressions of emotion she is prone to, something that is ‘used’ by others, and something that flaps about.

Mr Bennet: played by Nick

One of the key words which describes Mr Bennet for me is laconic.  While his wife expresses everything, he counters this by staying in his library (where we find him throughout the play) and saying very little.  

“Though prepared to meet folly and conceit in every other room in the house, in his library Mr Bennet had been always sure of leisure and tranquillity”

He has chosen to marry a woman who is his opposite and his way of handling this is to retreat to his man cave as much as possible and to deflect her with humour whenever he can.  It feels like his humour is a defence mechanism and an excuse for inaction.

For example, when Lizzy goes to ask him not to allow Lydia to go to Brighton he does not take it seriously:

“Lydia will never be easy till she has exposed herself in some public place of other, and we can never expect her to do it with so little expense or inconvenience to her family as under the present circumstances”

Of course this is then his un-doing when she runs off with Wickham: “Who should suffer but myself? It has been my own doing, and I ought to feel it.”

His marriage to Mrs Bennet fuels his retreat from engaging with the world and also his use of humour as a defence mechanism.   He can be amused by her, he can tease her, but ultimately he can’t respect her.  It’s very telling when he says to Lizzy (clearly his favourite child): 

“I know your disposition, Lizzy.  I know that you could be neither happy nor respectable, unless you truly esteemed your husband.  My child, let me not have the grief of seeing you unable to respect your partner in life”.

I feel if Mr Bennet were an item of clothing, he might be a waistcoat, with lots of pockets. Like a sort of gentleman’s body armour.

Darcy: played by Nick

He’s so fascinating to play because it’s all about what is going on underneath the surface and he lets none of it out until he absolutely has to.  He has this massive inner life and depth that other characters cannot glimpse.  Even his very good friends have no real idea what has happened between him and Wickham.  I guess what he would call his ‘reserve’ is a driving word for his character.

He says to Lizzy; “It has been the study of my life to avoid these weaknesses which often expose a strong understanding to ridicule”.  It seems like his reserve is his means of doing this.  He is ruled by himself and his own understanding and not by others and their view of him.  He doesn’t want to be laughed at.  Lizzy loves to laugh and this ignites the first spark between them.  It drives him to express the heart of his character to her really early on.

“I have faults enough.  My temper would perhaps be called resentful.  I cannot forget the follies and vices of others so soon as I ought.  My good opinion once lost is lost forever…There is, I believe, in every disposition a natural defect, which not even the best education can overcome”

He has a fear of exposing his weakness to the world, so he hides behind his reserve.    But Lizzy is able to cut through it and he has to ‘expose himself to ridicule’ in order to win her.  He has to contend with the idea of having a mother-in-law like Mrs Bennet; he has to deal with proposing and being rejected; ultimately of course he even uses his own fortune to secure Wickham’s future.  There is something compulsive in his desire for Lizzy and I think this is because from the start, he feels like she sees through him.

“The fact is, you were disgusted with the women who were looking for your approbation.  I roused, and interested you, because I was so unlike them.  Had you not been really amiable, you would have hated me for it; but in spite of the pains you took to disguise yourself, your feelings were always noble and just.”

I think if he were a part of the body, he would be the eyes… the windows to his true feelings and vulnerability; the bit that shows through the mask.

Lizzy: played by Jo

She’s so likeable because she doesn’t take herself too seriously.  She is her father’s daughter in that she is diverted by ‘Follies, nonsense, whims and inconsistencies’ and these include her own.  She is a really grounded character who cannot bear the pretensions of somebody like Caroline Bingley or Mr Collins.   

She is driven by this real sense of justice.  She believes in her own ability to be fair and impartial: “I hope I never ridicule what is wise or good” and she will fight for what she believes in.  She’s her mother’s daughter in that respect I think.   She’s also her mother’s daughter in the sense that she doesn’t perceive how much her own emotions colour her judgement.  She doesn’t see that her fancy for Wickham lends credibility to his story until she receives Darcy’s letter.

“Oh how just a humiliation…Pleased with the preference of one, and offended by the neglect of the other, I have courted ignorance and driven reason away.  Till this moment, I never knew myself!”

I think one of the reasons she falls in love with Darcy is because he reveals to her the truth of herself.  It feels like her core value is integrity.   

Her status is tricky because of course it changes throughout the course of the story.  I think her grounded nature and sense of justice gives her a great natural status.  She is not made to feel insecure by money or social standing.  But of course, she backs the wrong horse in Wickham and that is a huge challenge to her status and sense of self.  She has to climb down and admit she loves the man she has always professed to hate, but her integrity is her power I think.  It gives her strength in that great stand-off with Lady Catherine.

I think if she were a part of the body she would be the feet: grounded to the earth and her sense of place within it, constantly feeling what is around her and responding to it.

Jane: played by Nick

Jane is just lovely! The running joke is that she just can’t think ill of anybody.  Even when Wickham has run off with Lydia she ‘cannot think so ill of him’ as to assume the worst. 

She is trusting, placid and good natured, though Lizzy teases her that she is “ a great deal too apt to be pleased with people in general”.

If Darcy is right that everybody has a natural defect, then Jane’s would definitely be her tendency to believe only the best of people.  Her determination for goodness skews her perception.  Despite Lizzy’s reservations, she finds Caroline Bingley to be a pleasing woman.  She just cannot believe that she and Darcy are manipulating Bingley; she would rather believe that he does not love her than think ill of them.

“If they believed him attached to me, they would not try to part us; if he were so, they could not succeed.   By supposing such an affection, you make everybody acting unnaturally and wrong, and me most unhappy.  Do not distress me by the idea.  It has not been more than an error of fancy on my side and it has done no harm to anyone but myself.”

As far as Jane is concerned, to be acting badly or wrongly is to be acting unnaturally.  Even when she gets her man in the end, she immediately wants to be reconciled with Caroline “when she sees that her brother is happy with me, she will learn to be contented, and we shall be on good terms again”. 

She would rather suffer herself than make others wrong which does make her feel like a low status character.   But it also feels like she has this great personal integrity, which gives her this strong feeling of kinship with Lizzy.  Lizzy constantly turns to her for advice because Jane is always so fair and not lead by her own desires in the same way that Lizzy often is.

It feels like she is totally lead by her heart, so that’s a bit of a physical cue for me.  If she were an animal I think she might be a horse.  Beautiful, elegant, loveable and loyal

Bingley: played by Jo

The first description we get of Bingley is that he is ‘extremely agreeable’.  He emerges as a real people pleaser who loves the good things in life.  Our first introduction to him is his dancing every dance at the Meryton Assembly.  He’s a contrast to Darcy who keeps everything in reserve. 

He’s a lot like Jane in that he is inclined to think the best of people.  He has no idea that he is being manipulated by his sister and his friend into not returning to Hertfordshire and resuming his courtship with Jane, as Darcy says:

“Bingley has great natural modesty, with a stronger dependence on my judgement than on his own”

He is easily lead - his character emerges and is shaped by those closest to him.  We feel the luck of him marrying Jane in the end because she is so wonderfully good and selfless.  As Mr. Bennet says,

“Jane, I congratulate you.  You will be a very happy woman.  I have no doubt of your doing very well together.  You are each of you so complying that nothing will ever be resolved on; so easy, that every servant will cheat you; and so generous that you will always exceed your income.”

If he were an animal, I think he’d be a dog…like a Labrador or a red-setter.  He’s handsome and loveable and constantly seeking out enjoyment, but he defers to others.  If he were a part of the body he’d be the nose – something to be lead around by but which also sniffs out a good time.

Lydia: played by Jo

I find it really hard not to hate her in the end!  She has no self-awareness at all and is totally self-seeking.  I think perhaps the key to trying to understand Lydia is that she is the youngest child.  She’s been spoilt by her mother and ignored by her father.  If you’ve constantly been playing catch up as the youngest, then how amazing to actually achieve the prize of being married before all your sisters? Though I wonder how much she knows about the real Wickham by the end.  Does she ever feel as if she’s made a mistake?  She probably can’t allow herself to go there.  She certainly couldn’t let it show of course; she has to hang on to the fact that she’s won; she’s beaten her sisters to it. 

I think at the heart of Lydia throughout the story is this desire for attention, to be noticed.  It’s there in her first line:  “Though I am the youngest, I’m the tallest”.  She is loud and energetic; she seeks to dwarf Kitty who is older than her.  She hates being ignored and by being silly, she provokes attention. 

I have this sense of her being like fake laughter – drawing attention but hollow underneath.

Kitty: played by Nick

Kitty and Lydia are this silly double act.  They are close in age and so they compete with eachother.  I think Kitty similarly feels that she doesn’t want to be ignored.  She isn’t the youngest but of course she was once and Lydia took her place.  She is quite a whiner and I think this is a way of getting her mother’s attention away from Lydia and back on herself.  There’s definitely a sense of ‘Poor Me!’ about her, which finds its outlet in her cough.

Mr Collins: played by Nick

He’s such a wonderful, slimy villain.  He’s all about status.  It’s almost as if he moves around behind this glorious portrait of Lady Catherine that he has painted.

“I can safely say madam that I have never in my life witnessed such behaviour in a person of rank.  Her consideration for my comfort is really quite remarkable.”

Lady Catherine is his principle concern at all times, which makes it all the more delightful that the culmination of the novel is one of his relatives thwarting her lifelong ambition to marry her daughter to Darcy and unite the Rosings and Pemberley Estates. 

He is motivated entirely by money and social standing.  He lists property and possessions like medals of success.

“Elizabeth could not help in fancying that in displaying the good proportion of the room and excellent furniture, her cousin addressed himself particularly to her, as if wishing to make her feel what she had lost in refusing him”.

It’s such a subversive portrait of a clergyman; he really is presented as the ultimate hypocrite.  Initially he thinks he might marry Jane, then Lizzy, then Charlotte – it doesn’t really matter who.  The fact of having a wife is all that counts and he feels no emotion or love whatsoever.  In Mr Collins’ world love-making is a business.

I think if he were a part of the body he'd be the index finger and the thumbwhich he uses to count money and display his property.

Charlotte Lucas: played by Jo

Inevitably, because we have to cram the action of the novel into 2 hours of stage time, some of Charlotte’s thinking about marriage has had to be lost in our telling of the story.  What is born out by her actions though, is that she has a very different perspective of marriage from Lizzy. 

She is presented as a plain girl from a large family.  Her position in society means that she must marry well in order to gain security, yet she cannot be expected to make a very good match because she is not handsome.  She sells her happiness for the sake of security.  Lizzy cannot understand this because it is so at odds with her own sense of personal integrity.  I think it serves to highlight the strength of Lizzy’s character that she will not marry Mr Collins simply to rescue her family from potential poverty.  Mr Bennet remarks, 

“ My dear I must confess that it rather gratifies me to discover that Charlotte Lucas, whom I have been used to think tolerably sensible is as foolish as my wife and more foolish than my daughter”.

Charlotte’s decision to accept Mr Collins and move away from her family emphasises the precarious situation of women at the time, when the most important decision of their lives was who to marry.

I think Charlotte might best be seen as a pair of glasses, to give that sense of her not being very glamorous and perhaps offer a metaphor for her short sighted decision to marry Mr. Collins.

Lady Catherine: played by Nick

She is a woman who is all about authority and status. 

“ Lady Catherine’s air was not conciliating nor was her manner of receiving visitors such as to make them forget their inferior rank”

She is used to having her own way by virtue of her position in society.  She simply cannot cope with Lizzy who is all about fairness and reason and pays little attention to what society feels is important.

“Upon my word, you give your opinion very decidedly for so young a person”

She is the head of this great Estate and she wants to unite it with Pemberley.  You get this sense of her as the current head of a long lineage.  She serves to illustrate what Darcy would be if he was all Pride; if he did not have integrity and a sense of social justice.  We really rejoice to see he and Lizzy triumph over her at the end.  It’s brilliant that actually she is the means of their coming together.

“She taught me to hope, as I had scarcely ever allowed myself to hope before.  I knew enough of your disposition to be certain that, had you been absolutely, irrevocably decided against me, you would have acknowledged it to Lady Catherine, frankly and openly.”

If Lady Catherine were an object, I think she might be a walking cane.  It gives a sense of her age and therefore the idea of this long lineage behind her, it also gives her this sense of power and authority (almost like a teacher’s cane which she can swipe at things with!).

Caroline Bingley: played by Jo

Caroline is a woman in the grips of unrequited love.  Of course she seeks to project status and sense of great social standing but it is all undercut by her desire for attention from Mr Darcy.  She is not stupid either.  She sees how he is intrigued by Lizzy, and also how a match between Bingley and Jane will bring Lizzy and Darcy closer together.

She feels very feline to me: she grooms herself and wants to show off her independence and grace;

“Miss Eliza Bennet, let me persuade you to follow my example, and take a turn about the room.  I assure you it is very refreshing after sitting so long in one attitude.”

But her main aim is to be petted by Mr Darcy.  She has that cat-like trait of courting the person who pays her the least attention. 

Of course she is constantly making ‘catty’ comments about the Bennet family and their social standing in order to steer Darcy away from Elizabeth.  She is downright horrible to Jane in London -  where her claws are really out. But she can never be honest and say how she really feels because I think she knows deep down that Darcy is not in love with her.  It puts her in this position of having to be manipulative all the time, of not being able to be her true self, which of course pushes him further away. 

Wickham: played by Nick

He is both Darcy’s enemy and his opposite.  He has all of the appearance of goodness and truth but at his heart he is corrupt.  It feels initially like he has nothing to hide; he immediately reveals to Elizabeth the reason behind the awkward meeting she witnesses between him and Darcy.  He has none of Darcy’s reserve, but of course he completely manipulates and obscures the truth.

He is this smiling con-man, whose life is all about Hustling.  He trades on his looks and charm because that is all he has. He’s really good at it too - Elizabeth is certainly not stupid and he manages to take her in.  But he has to be constantly on the move so that the truth does not catch up with him - so in fact he is constantly living in exile.  

“He confessed himself obliged to leave the regiment, on account of some debts of honour which were very pressing…as to his future situation, he could conjecture very little about it” (Mr Gardiner's letter to Mr. Bennet)

He tells Elizabeth he ‘almost’ envies her the pleasure of seeing Pemberley.   I think he feels genuine affection for the place he grew up but he could never bring himself to see it again because his life has been such an utter betrayal of his roots.

Darcy ends the story living at Pemberley, his home, with a woman he loves.  Wickham ends up in Newcastle in a position paid for by his enemy with a wife he never wanted to marry in the first place.

I feel like as an item of clothing he’d be some form of disguise, perhaps a hat or a button hole;  to reflect the fact that he can never be truly himself and is always on the run from his past.  As an animal he'd definitely be a Fox.

The Gardiners: Mrs Gardiner, played by Jo; and Mr Gardiner, played by Nick

It feels in many ways as if The Gardiners are a sort of alternative set of parents to Lizzy.  Her own mother is so reactive and embarrassing, and her father is so humorously disengaged but the Gardiners are instantly likeable and charming.   

Mr Gardiner is sensible and readily undertakes responsibility when Lydia runs off.  Mrs Gardiner is perceptive and cautious; she sees that Lizzy has a fancy for Wickham and warns her to be careful, she also sees that Jane needs some time away from Mrs Bennet in London.   

Of course, by taking Lizzy to Pemberley, The Gardiners are also the ‘means of uniting’ Darcy and Lizzy.

It certainly feels as if Lizzy is at home with them.  She glories in their ‘intelligence, taste and good manners.’  These are the values that Lizzy holds dear.

It is by his civility and kindness to The Gardiners that Darcy reveals he is not a snob. He may have baulked at the impropriety of some of the Bennet family, but he responds to intelligence and good manners in the same way that Lizzy does.  When he meets the Gardiners at Pemberley there is immediate warmth and friendship because he responds to the same things that Lizzy rejoices in.  He is not concerned by Mr Gardiner’s being a man of trade.  In fact it becomes clear that his friendship with Mr Gardiner deepens during the time they spend together seeking to resolve Lydia and Wickham’s marriage - they hammer it out together as equals.

So, the Gardiners bring Darcy and Lizzy together in more ways than simply by bringing Lizzy to Pemberley.  They reveal that they value the same things; that at heart they are both people of integrity who are not blinded by money and status like Mr Collins or Caroline Bingley.  Relations with Lady Catherine are strained at the end of the novel, but we are told that “with the Gardiners, they were always on the most intimate of terms.  Darcy as well as Elizabeth really loved them.”