DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) – Lyceum Theatre, Sheffield

Reviewer: Jim Gillespie

Writer: Isobel McArthur, after Jane Austen

Director: Isobel McArthur and Simon Harvey

It is a truth, evidenced by this hugely entertaining take on the 19th Century classic, that well-loved and well-worn works of literature can be re-purposed for any age or genre, and still engage the affections of an audience. This re-telling of Pride and Prejudice subverts the original, turns its class-ridden male-dominated perspective upside down, throws in a karaoke soundtrack, and still keeps faith with the best-loved elements of the original Jane Austen rom-com.

The core of the plot is respected, with the five Bennet daughters expected to find suitable husbands before they become destitute on the death of their father. Their local networks bring them into contact with their social superiors, but their family’s straightened circumstances may debar them from hopes of marriage into this class,  despite the driver of mutual affection. This is played out particularly in the wooing of Jane and Elizabeth Bennet, by Charles Bingley and his friend Darcy.

The novel is probably the most comedic of Austen’s works, and is here extended into realms of silliness and sassiness to provide a very modern update on the mannered courtships of the original. The energy and vitality of the five-strong cast drive the story on a headlong dash towards happy-ever-after. Modern twists provide a Charlotte Lucas with unfulfilled lesbian urges, Mr Bennet symbolised by an armchair and newspaper, and a potty-mouthed Mrs Bennet with a fondness for Baileys.

The music is similarly anachronistic. Not the sedate courtly gavotte or rustic fling of the county ball, but a modern pop canon harnessing Carly Simon, Bonnie Tyler, Steely Dan and others to serve as chorus and commentary on the action. The music also injects an instantly relatable modern link to the lives and situations of the protagonists. It helps that the actors are accomplished singers and musicians.

Obviously, for a cast of five actors to play the five Bennet sisters, their parents, friends, love interests and servants, plus Lady Catherine de Bourgh, requires some ingenuity. It also requires some lightening costume changes, inventive staging, and sheer unadulterated energy on the part of all involved. The audience is required not just to suspend disbelief, but to cheer the deftness and daftness with which it is all accomplished. While the production is professional to its boots, it retains enough rough-hewn edginess to still seem like a fringe production on the edge of collapse. The balance is a fine one, but Isobel McArthur, Simon Harvey and their team judge it perfectly.

Runs until 26th November 2022.

The Reviews Hub Score

Austentatiously entertaining

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The Yorkshire & North East team is under the editorship of Jacob Bush. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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