Writer: Maggie Fox & Sue Ryding
Reviewer: Lizz Clark
“Women writers,” Mr. Darcy scoffs, as Jane Austen brings him to life at the beginning of the show. Convinced that he is getting an unfair deal from her, he takes matters into his own hands, starting off a chaotic journey through literary space and time in search of a better story.
Unfortunately for Darcy, he can’t escape the realm of the feminine imagination – after all, this show was written by two women, Lip Service’s Maggie Fox and Sue Ryding – and we travel through the worlds of Daphne du Maurier, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Beatrix Potter with our increasingly confused and frustrated hero.
These authors’ works have permeated our national consciousness, making them prime material for laughs of confused recognition, but Fox and Ryding do more than just throw characters together to see how they interact. They bring stacks of originality, ingenious stage effects, and several interwoven narrative levels together in Darcy’s quest, and they take us along for the ride.
It helps that the pair are both hugely talented and instantly likeable. Fox plays the titular Darcy, modelled on Colin Firth but awkwardly practising his haughty expressions when he thinks nobody is looking. She also gives comic life to three of the Bennett sisters, the eerie Mrs Danvers from Rebecca, and a Beatrix Potter animal or two. Ryding is, well, everybody else: her comedy high point is wafting and wailing around as the second Mrs de Winter from Rebecca, but it’s also great fun to watch her as Jane Austen, getting frustrated as the character she created refuses to follow her rules.
This is wonderfully slick, delightfully silly stuff. The pair keep finding new ways to make us laugh, from a relatable scene where one of them is wrestling with her iPad, to the moment when Mrs. Gaskell appears physically bedecked with the scene she is writing about, or Darcy wrestles a giant fish while taking his infamous swim. The set has been made by community quilters and has so many clever features that the staging is almost a character in its own right, full of laughs and surprises. There is also some truly brilliant use of projected film, with ‘wow’ moments as well as belly-laughs.
A few jokes are repeated more than they deserve, as are the scene transitions featuring projected silhouettes, which fall flat after a while. However, aside from these brief moments, and the need to have at least a passing knowledge of the books that are drawn upon, there’s little to stop audiences from being drawn into Lip Service’s anarchic literary adventure.
Runs until 9th September | Image: Contributed