Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) – The HOUSE, Birmingham REP

Writer: Isobel McArthur from the book by Jane Austen

Director: Paul Brotherston

Reviewer: Katie Burchett

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that every Jane Austen novel adapted for the stage must include karaoke. Or if it wasn’t before, it should be now, thanks to Tron Theatre Company’s all-female co-production of Pride and Prejudice*(*sort of). Raucous and vibrant, Isobel McArthur’s adaptation manages to stay truthful to the story we know and love, whilst giving the admittedly lengthy prose a fresh lick of paint, complete with eye rolls, name-calling, swearing, make-up melting heartbreak and a line up of lovesick pop songs.

McArthur has syphoned every opportunity to celebrate Austen’s witty observations on society and tells the story from the perspective of the servants – an acknowledgement that in a regency household the serving staff see it all. They crash through the fourth wall from the onset, narrating, matchmaking and ensuring that we feel very much part of the action at all times.

This is a company with comedic prowess at its core. Alongside slick costume changes and skilled multi-roling, the actors aid the story with live music, turning their hands to multiple instruments. Hannah Jarrett-Scott is a true chameleon: from her foppish Mr Bingley to his snooty sister Caroline to the devastated Charlotte Lucas, Jarrett-Scott physically and vocally embodies each of her roles to perfection. McArthur’s Darcy is a wonderfully stoic presence, contrasting with her shrill and needy Mrs Bennet, who shrieks her way through family life, often with a glass of alcohol in one hand; a personification of the pressures of regency society.

Sound designer MJ McCarthy has picked each cover carefully, creating a delicious culture clash that makes us long for the next song, and Lizzie Bennet’s deadpan cover of You’re So Vain hits the spot particularly well. Similarly, we rejoice when Tori Burgess, as a musically-repressed Mary, at last gets her chance to shine in the finale with a soulful rendition of Young Hearts Run Free.

To quote McArthur, the production draws ‘unashamedly on many of the associated tropes [of romances]’. Fun is to be had at every turn, but does that compromise its integrity? After some thought, perhaps it does occasionally dip a toe into the realm of over-indulgence when there are hints of the cast enjoying the gag for themselves rather than for us. But amongst the moments of silliness, there are delicate moments of truth: the turmoil of unrequited love, the despair of false love, the dangers of fickle love. We are left wondering if anything has really changed. Will society, on the whole, ever stop insisting that we need a partner to succeed?

Throughout, there is a palpable sense of McArthur’s love for the story, but also a sense of mischief, and a determination to make the production as enjoyable for the Austen buffs as for the Bridget Jones fans. At its heart, there is joy in abundance. This is how one hopes the Bennets might behave behind closed doors, substance over-indulgence, foul language and all. Pride and Prejudice is the story of the hand that regency women were dealt, and Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) celebrates their lot until way past the bell for last orders.

Runs until: 2 November 2019 and on Tour Image: Mihaela Bodlovic

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score

Raucous and vibrant

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The Reviews Hub - Central

The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. 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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