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.