Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Theatre Review: Pride and Prejudice *sort of

I had no idea what to expect when I was first invited to watch this production. All I knew was that it somehow involved the servants and that it wasn’t going to be your typical performance of the Jane Austen classic – hence the “sort of” in the title. But I went with an open mind, ready to be entertained, which is exactly what happened! I found it thoroughly enjoyable and… completely indescribable! So how to pen this review..?
(Disclaimer: I was invited to review this production and give my honest and unbiased opinion.)

“Six young women have a story to tell. You might have seen them, emptying the chamber pots and sweeping ash from the grate; the overlooked and the undervalued making sure those above stairs find their happy ending. Of course, they've always been running the show - after all 'You can't have a whirlwind romance without clean bedding' – but tonight, the servants are also playing every part.

Men, money and microphones will be fought over in this loving and irreverent all-female adaptation of Jane Austen's unrivalled literary classic. Let the ruthless matchmaking begin.”
Witty and upbeat with a superb musical twist, this show has something for everyone. I would class it as a 21st century interpretation of Pride and Prejudice, however it is the characters and their conversations that have been modernised, and not the historical context - perhaps this is why it is so successful? I have long been of the opinion that productions which try to bring Austen completely up to date just don’t work. 

To me it is the joy of Austen’s novels that she wrote characters who are still relatable to us today. However, the society and world they inhabit is less comparable. (I can be alone in a room with a gentleman without being obliged to marry him, my honour having been severely compromised!). This production finds the happy medium, and beautifully showcases just how accurate and relevant Jane Austen’s character portrayals really were!
I acknowledge that that this is not a production that every Jane Austen fan would enjoy, particularly those who consider themselves purists. This is a most unusual take on the story and contains some forward, often blunt and even bad language, (swearing is not a feature of Austen!). I personally tend to have an open mind for interpretations such as this, nevertheless I also wish to encourage other Janeites to give this production a go: you may be surprised at how much you enjoy yourself! That was certainly my experience. 

Another reason I feel this company has achieved such a successful and unique performance is an obvious respect for the original. The writer has been extremely clever in her use of Austen’s words and witty exchanges and although she has given them a modern twist, never did I feel it was poking fun at Austen’s sublime original text. Our favourite scenes and well-loved plot line was easily recognisable. It is a suitably long play that manages to encompass most of the novel, however I would say that the focus, as it should be in my eyes, was on the first half of the story, leading up to Darcy’s proposal; too often, I feel, productions spend more time on the second half.

I must congratulate each and every member of the cast. They are all hugely talented and successfully brought to life the characters they were portraying.

I particularly loved the Bingleys, Charles and Caroline both being played by Hannah Jarrett-Scott. They were such brilliant comic characters and always stole the scene!

Another favourite has to be Mary – throughout the play, her character either receives a put down or is ignored, just as she is in the book, and it is poignantly comical. Tori Burgess who plays Mary also plays Lydia, as a well portrayed and striking contrast.

Lady Catherine De Bourgh was also a memorable performance; her haughty presence filled the stage whenever she was on. Again, this was a superbly different characterisation to Christina Gordon’s other main role, Jane Bennet.

The most challenging portrayal for my brain to comprehend as being the same actress, was Mrs Bennet and Mr Darcy; Mrs Bennet was wonderfully scatty and melodramatic – which Mr Darcy of course, was not! And talented Isobel McArthur is also our playwright! 

Felixe Forde playing Kitty Bennet was great too. I enjoyed the representation of Kitty as a bit of a tom-boy, and somewhat hard done by as a middle sister, struggling to emerge from Lydia’s shadow. The relationship between Kitty and Lydia was highly amusing!

And of course, I must mention our wonderful Lizzy Bennet, played by Meghan Tyler. Lizzy is a character so close to my heart – and she is also my blog persona! I am always nervous to see how people interpret her, but I was not disappointed, as her combination of wit, spark, and ‘obstinate headstrong girl’ independence was perfectly captured.
(Yes, I have now mentioned every cast member, - but I can assure you that they were all so amazing, they all deserve a mention.)
Throughout the play, I felt the character swaps and division of parts worked exceptionally well, without any strong alteration of scenes. They manage to retain the majority of the characters from the book – neither Mary/Kitty, nor Mr/Mrs Gardiner were cut, as I have often seen before. Mr Bennet is portrayed in a more unconventional way that I haven’t seen before, but it works surprisingly well! 

I also wish to compliment the cast on their musical skills, on a wide variety of instruments from trumpet to accordion! 

I particularly enjoyed seeing the harp make an appearance - a rare treat.

The costumes were cleverly handled to make the characters easily distinguishable and the quick changes never went wrong! The set was well thought out and suited the variety of locations needed, and even the lighting was used to great effect in this production.

The idea of it being the servants who are telling the story and therefore featuring more prominently was an interesting take and a clever nod to the silent characters behind the scenes. We don’t usually hear from them or about them, but they are there, and important to the story – as they point out to us throughout the play!

I particularly enjoyed the clever and seemingly impromptu interaction with the auditorium, often addressing us directly, and with the cast coming out into the audience at times. This made us all feel included, as if we were performing with them, rather than just watching them from a distance and completely unconnected.

Overall, I feel this is a fascinating way of bringing Austen’s characters to a modern audience and showcases how they are still very relatable and current. I feel it could well be a wonderful way of attracting a whole new audience to Jane Austen; even my partner will love this production, and as a SciFi fan, this would not usually be his genre! Laughs echoed throughout the theatre, at each of the two performances I have been fortunate to see and everyone left the theatre smiling. 

Clever, witty, unique and just plain funny: you won’t regret an evening out at this production! What more could you ask for?  I will be watching this company closely as I expect this production will go far, and rightly so!

Myself, Alinka and Abigail
The second time I saw this play, I was with two of my good Janeite friends, Abigail Rose and Alinka Deane. They were inspired by my enthusiasm to see the play for themselves - also wondering why I was finding it so how difficult to explain it to them! Unsurprisingly, they both loved it too.  


Utterly hilarious! Karaoke, a couple of discos and Mr. Bennet represented by a newspaper in a chair? It’s something not to be missed! 

This play was full of surprises at every turn, with modern takes on beloved characters that you never thought could be done so differently, and yet stay faithful to the work of Jane Austen. You can tell the writer and actors are true fans of Pride and Prejudice! Their enjoyment whilst performing makes the whole experience a true delight to watch. 

Pride and Prejudice is such a well-known story that I’ve seen done again and again, in basically the same way with different costumes in different locations. This version was a breath of fresh air that is an instant all-time favourite! I need to see it again, and so should you.

It’s a show that bubbles with love. The original script of Austen's novel is lovingly followed and re-mashed to create a version that resonates perfectly with a modern day audience. It was amazing to hear the character speak as I would and say what I’ve always wished they could say, if only decency allowed. 

The six women on stage are a power house of talent who have been unleashed. Creativity and passion flew from the stage and knocked me in the back of the head. Their ability to create believable characters that are still larger than life was bewitching. Hannah Jarrett-Scott’s duo of Bingleys, in particular, stole my heart and made me cry with laughter.

They call it a romantic comedy for the stage and that is just what it feels like. You get a warm fuzzy feeling in your heart when the fated happy ending plays out. 
The characters are given time to be vulnerable and so you feel more deeply for them than any other Austen stage adaption I have ever seen. 

The audience are given permission to laugh and join in with the gaiety on stage and so I’m willing to be taken along for the ride wherever it might lead; whether it’s Karaoke-singing, hula-hoop eating or giant plastic horses I enjoyed every second.
To sum up, just go and see this show.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Sense and Sensibility by The Pantaloons - a review

A couple of summers ago, I was delighted by my first experience of a 'Pantaloons' production, (a humorous and clever presentation of Pride and Prejudice), and so this week, I was very much looking forward to their own special take on another of my favourite Jane Austen novels, this time Sense and Sensibility.  And I'm pleased to report that I was not disappointed. 

First and foremost, I have to commend the cast on their ability to put the audience completely at ease from the start, so that we are immediately caught up in the atmosphere and feeling we are part of the show. Regular interaction with so many members of the audience makes for a special and unique experience!  As we all gradually arrived and made ourselves comfortable with our picnic rugs and folding chairs, and well before the performance had begun, the actors were in amongst us, welcoming and chatting to as many as possible. They even improvised an amusing song, sparked by asking some of us about our jobs, and this started the laughter and managed to set the relaxed and inclusive tone of the evening.  

This wonderful audience integration continued as the play unfolded, and they frequently brought the action off the stage and down amongst us - even cheekily sneaking a stray sausage roll or sip of wine too, as they passed among the audience! I have never felt so much a part of a production as I have when watching the Pantaloons. 

I must compliment them all on their improvisation skills. When involving the audience in this way, I suspect each performance is slightly different and that you have to be prepared for unexpected answers or unforeseen incidents and be ready to react! The Pantaloons can confidently take a response from the audience, or even a mistake by one of their cast members, and roll with it, to turn it into an ongoing joke for the remainder of the evening. 

As you can probably tell, this production is a highly entertaining adaptation of Jane Austen’s already witty and rewarding novel.  The Pantaloons focus on the comedic aspects of the characters and storyline, which creates the light-hearted tone they are trying to achieve - I do find that the humour and satire in Austen is toned down in some television or film adaptations, so I particularly enjoy performances that enhance the comedy.

Whilst they celebrate the humour, I still found that they manage to remain sufficiently faithful to the original text and to Jane Austen's style. There are clever nods to other Austen novels, and as an ardent fan, I loved to listen out for these.  (I especially liked the extra storyline played out between Mrs Jennings and Sir John’s dogs, all of whom are named after characters in Pride and Prejudice!)

I noticed a few modern twists here and there, in character portrayal and in aspects of the storyline, but these are handled sensitively and must only add to the enjoyment, in particular, of younger audience members and of newcomers to Austen.  The production is fun and approachable for all; I am sure that there will be something in the performance for each and every one of us to take away, with pleasure, at the end of the evening.

In fact, I attended this wonderful performance of Sense and Sensibility with one of my oldest friends, Becky, who is a Jane Austen novice!  Here are her thoughts on the evening:-  

Becoming a ‘Janeite’ - part 2!

After thoroughly enjoying being 'dragged along' to my first Austen experience last year, when I was asked by Sophie to accompany her again, I actually jumped at the chance!  This time it was Sense and Sensibility by the Pantaloons. 
It was a lovely summer's evening and the setting was beautiful, perfect for my second instalment of Jane Austen education. 

Not knowing the plot at all, I panicked slightly when Sophie described it as ‘more complex’ than Pride and Prejudice. With only four cast members, would I be able to decipher the plot and distinguish the characters??  I need not have worried. With the Pantaloons' fantastic mannerisms and minute costume changes, I found the plot easy to follow and really engaging. 

Above all, I enjoyed the humour - satire is a word I have heard associated with Austen and this was definitely delivered. That, coupled with great interaction and audience participation, I found the whole evening highly entertaining and felt it was the brilliant cast that made this production so successful. It is one thing to deliver a witty line well, but another to be amusing in your own right and the four cast members were just that. 

Outstanding evening, would highly recommend. ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Sunday, June 02, 2019

Be More Jane: Bring out your inner Austen to meet life’s challenges - now published!

Dear readers, 

Thank you so much for your patience given my absence here for almost a year. I am pleased to say it was for good cause, as I am now a published author, with my new book Be More Jane

It has been quite a year and what an adventure I have had! I have created a new page (to be found at the top of my blog, under the header image) which lists all the information, links, details and more about my book. 

There are videos of myself reading extracts, links to the blogs I visited on a tour (with excerpts, deleted scenes and interviews), sneak peeks at the gorgeous illustrations and much more. Please do have a look and get in touch if you have any other questions or would like any more details. (I am also offering signed copies well, for those would like it, so contact me and I will happily oblige!)

If you do read my book, I really hope you enjoy it. It was a thrilling journey, seeing it through from a blank notebook staring back at me, to a finished, fully illustrated book in my hands!

Thank you all for your patience and loyalty. If you don't already, be sure to follow me on my social media channels - now including Instagram - as I post there regularly. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Pride and Prejudice by Heartbreak Productions review

On Sunday evening, I was invited by Heartbreak Productions to see a theatrical performance of ‘Pride and Prejudice’, and it has been easy for me to post this glowing review, since it was a brilliant production!

The company is currently touring the country, but I was fortunate to watch them at beautiful Hatchlands Park, a National Trust house near Guildford. This was an open air production, and we were lucky, for despite the gloomy weather forecast, we escaped with just one shower!

The 5 cast members play 16 different characters, and yet they successfully managed to differentiate between them so expertly, that I almost expected more people to come on stage at the end to take the applause! Every single cast member is a real credit to the company.

Particular highlights for me were the portrayal of Mr Collins, and the relationships between Mr and Mrs Bennet, and between Lydia and Kitty, which managed to be a suitable contrast to the characterisations of Jane and Lizzy Bennet! As well as being able to deliver the comedy elements, much to the huge enjoyment of the audience, I was pleased that they were able to portray the serious and emotional scenes in a touching way too. From my previous experience of other productions, I had noticed that some are more confident with the humour, and less with the pathos, or vice versa, but there were no weak links in this cast and I found it a well balanced adaptation.

Being an open air theatre, the staging was very simple, however the backdrop and location were so gorgeous, it worked well, and anyway, Jane Austen’s words speak for themselves and don't need fancy scenery! The costumes worked suitably well too, with small and clever changes to signify a change in character.

I have already mentioned the humorous portrayal of some of the most amusing personalities, however the comedy was great throughout. In some adaptations, I feel the comic side of Jane Austen’s work has been toned down or even left out altogether, and I have never understood this, as I find so much in her works that is funny! But I’m glad to report that this wasn’t the case with Heartbreak; they presented and celebrated her wonderful wit in their production!

In order to condense the story into two hours, it is inevitable that scenes in the book must be cut or moved around, but Heartbreak’s interpretation was artistically well managed and gave us a coherent story. I was delighted that some accurate dialogue and passages from the book were included, especially some of the great exchanges between Darcy and Lizzy when they are engaged. These are often cut. In fact, I think this was generally one of the more faithful representations I have seen on stage, and the story did not seem rushed.

However, what struck me the most about this excellent production was it’s inclusivity. The atmosphere was relaxed, with the cast welcoming us all and putting everyone at ease. I was impressed that they mingled with the audience, chatting to people as they settled before the performance, and again during the interval. This was a new idea to me, but I enjoyed the interaction. Some audience participation was also included in the performance, plus there were opportunities for people to have some fun trying on Regency bonnets and clothing. The whole event felt very inclusive, as if we were all participating in the evening, and they created a relaxed atmosphere which I feel would have been enjoyable and accessible to all ages.

I attended the performance with one of my oldest friends, who happens to be a complete Austen novice! So by way of interesting comparison, here is what she had to say about the production (- I think we may have a convert!).

Becky writes:-

“Although I have lived in England my entire life (27 years), I have somehow, but completely unintentionally, managed to avoid anything ‘Jane Austen’. Never have I seen a film, read a book or encountered a theatre event. I was invited to see this production by my self-proclaimed ‘Janeite’ friend Sophie Andrews, aka Laughing with Lizzie, and I leapt at the opportunity.

I had yet to see the appeal of Jane Austen or really understand the concept behind her novels. So my very first experience was Sunday evening at Heartbreak Productions’ rendition of ‘Pride and Prejudice’, and let me tell you, I was not disappointed.

I arrived at Hatchlands Park to a small outdoor stage, and as a lover of outdoor cinema, this made me very excited.

I was looking forward to seeing how the logistics of such a small cast worked, but I was unsure if I would follow the storyline, given that I did not know any of the characters or even the plot. This was not the case, thanks to the fantastic acting I witnessed throughout the performance. I am fairly confident that even without the minor costume changes that signified the changes in character, I would still have been able to distinguish which character the actor or actress was playing. In fact, I was really impressed by the simplistic costume changes, as they seemed to make it easier for us, the audience, to concentrate on the show. It seemed to streamline the whole process.

Moreover, I was impressed with the simplicity throughout; the set, the costumes, the audience interaction. The whole evening was thoroughly enjoyable and I must say I now look forward to experiencing some more Jane Austen, and hopefully some of Heartbreak Productions’ future presentations too!”
Rebecca Cook

In summary:-
I have seen many many productions of Austen on stage, and ‘Pride and Prejudice’ more than any other, but I can say that this was one of the very best I have seen and definitely one of my personal favourites. Congratulations to Heartbreak for an excellent adaptation, a seamless performance, and overall an atmospheric and most enjoyable evening. I look forward to other productions by Heartbreak - even better if it is another Jane Austen!

I can highly recommend checking out Heartbreak’s touring schedule, to see if they are playing somewhere near you, as I’m confident you won’t be disappointed!