Writer: Jane Austen
Adaptor: Isobel McArthur
Director: Paul Brotherston
Jane Austen’s beloved Pride and Prejudice as a gender-blind, karaoke romcom. It’s the reinvention we didn’t know we needed, and which might have to be seen to be believed.
Dressed in plain white smocks, the talented role-switching cast kick-start the show as servants, armed with washing-up gloves and feather dusters, bursting onto the balcony to beat dust out of carpets. Through a series of quick-witted quips they make it clear that their near-absence from the novel was a “wee oversight” on Austen’s part – and that in this adaptation, they’re not going anywhere.
The story is familiar but thoroughly modern; instead of a ball with stuffy dances there’s a party with red solo cups, disco lights and a glowing karaoke machine that downtrodden sister Mary can never quite get her hands on.
Writer Isobel McArthur and director Paul Brotherston read between the lines to wring every inch of humour from Austen’s original, while staying remarkably true to the plot.
Tron Theatre Company’s marvellous cast masterfully act out both the feisty, feminist sisters and an emotionally repressed set of relatives and suitors. Stand-outs are Isobel McArthur’s frantic, broad-Yorkshire Mrs Bennett and enigmatic Darcy; and Hannah Jarrett-Scott’s bumbling Charles Bingley and his smarmy, pursed-lipped sister Miss Bingley. Meghan Tyler’s Irish Elizabeth Bennett, headstrong and dripping with sarcasm in her You’re So Vain karaoke solo, could have strolled straight off the set of Derry Girls.
What about Mr Bennett? With a stroke of genius, set designer Ana Ines Jabares Pita portrays the taciturn, useless father as a newspaper propped up on an armchair.
The servants are stagehands, doing all the prop-chucking and heavy lifting. Their starched white dresses illuminate them like ghosts against the backdrop of the stark but beautiful staircase set – constantly reminding us of their presence. Silent and demure in front of their mistresses, they come alive behind closed doors, and it quickly becomes clear that they’re the masterminds behind the whole operation. Paper-aeroplaning Darcy’s letter back onto Liz’s lap when she throws it away, comically mime-instructing Darcy to give Liz a hug when she cries; they fistbump when their plans fall into place.
While bursting at the seams with humour, swearing and 60s pop, the show also does an exceptional job of highlighting that Austen wasn’t all about balls and big dresses – it’s never been clearer just how much is riding on one of the Bennett girls marrying. And fast. The economic realities are spotlighted when maid Tilly laments that if none of the sisters marry, uncle Collins will inherit the house along with the garden, the furniture, the mould on the cottage cheese, and Tilly herself.
Maybe best described as SIX on steroids, Isobel McArthur’s rip-roaring adaptation is the Bennetts (with more than a little help from, well, the help) at their most boisterous, brilliant and bonkers. It’s impossible not to lose yourself in the weird, wacky world of *Sort Of even though you’ve probably (definitely) never seen Austen (or anything) like this before.
Runs until 29th February 2020