As five conspiratorial servants potter around the stage before the show proper we know this is going to be no typical Austen adaptation. Brought into the West End by producer David Pugh, this is Pride and Prejudice as you never knew it.
Here is the story of the Bennets and Bingleys put into a comic karaoke setting. Even with some characters facing an editorial snip, the major players are beautifully brought to life through quick costume changes and fast-paced editing.
Charles Bingley (Hannah Jarrett-Scott, who is also Miss Bingley and Miss Lucas) is a dumb posh boy we first meet when he has his hand stuck in a tube of Pringles, while Darcy (writer Isobel McArthur, also Mrs Bennet) is a sulky and smouldering “mardarse” who at one point stalks Lizzie Bennet via his ancestral portrait.
The girls are nicely defined – Jane (Christina Gordon) is sweet, Lizzie (Meghan Tyler) is spiky and increasingly unkempt, Lydia (Tori Burgess) is a menace who bullies (off-stage) sister Kitty and bubbles with malice against her older siblings. Mary, who must never sing, is fun – Burgess gives her as comic a turn as she does for truly dreadful and repellent Mr Collins.
Both reverent to the plot of the Austen classic, and irreverent enough to keep you chuckling from the first moment, McArthur’s script is inventive, cheeky, and warm. It moves seamlessly from presenting Mr Bennet as literally a chair, a newspaper, and occasional puff of smoke, to making poor and plain Charlotte Lucas a closet lesbian pining for Lizzie.
Some jokes are a bit obvious: the partygoers smoking around the “Jane Aust-Bin”; the inclusion of a song “by my nephew Christopher (De Burgh)”; the allusion to Darcy not having the foresight to take a swim in his lake on arriving back early to Pemberley.
It doesn’t matter. This is a raucous and entertaining evening from five talented women which will make you feel good and go home smiling. You don’t need to know the novel already to enjoy, although you will pick up more mondnts of fun if you do.
Sit back and laugh at Mrs Bennet as she gasps in her inhaler or falls face-first into a tin of Quality Street. Enjoy the posturing of Regency villain George Wickham (played by Gordon) as he makes a notable entrance. Giggle as hopelessly snobbish Caroline Bingley as she tries to steal Darcy’s attention. Marvel at the use of a small but perfectly judged set of props in a set dominated by a huge curving staircase.
I won’t spoil the surprise of the song list, except to say every one, however brief, is on point. This is a lovely show which you really should see, if you able to.
Pride and Prejudice (sort of) is co-directed by Isobel McArthur and Simon Harvey, and designed by Ana Ines Jabares-Pita. It is currently playing at the Criterion. Book your tickets here.
Image credit: Matt Crockett