Review by Rosie Holmes
“If you like it, tell someone” read the banner strung across the stage at the end of the show and that’s exactly what I plan to do! Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) is a boisterous and hilariously funny retelling of one of the most well-known stories in English literature.
Written by Isobel McArthur, Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) impressed and delighted audiences when it was first performed in Glasgow, whilst catching the attention of numerous producers. Fast forward to 5 years later, and the show has enjoyed a nationwide tour, a West End run (for which it won an Olivier) and now finds itself embarking on its second UK tour. As a fan of Jane Austen, myself, and having heard great things about this show it’s fair to say, I had high expectations.
The plotline remains remarkably close to the original but with the welcome and hilarious additions of swearing, karaoke (more on that later) and Doc Marten clad Georgians. The audience follow the story of the five Bennett sisters, as they try to find a husband under the watch of their hysterical mother whilst navigating the rules and expectations of Regency society. Of course, we also witness the iconic love story between Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy.
What has been changed here, however, is the framing device used to tell the story. The evening opens with the appearance of 5 women, bustling through the stalls; women who feature in all of Austen’s novels but who are not necessarily recognisable. They are the servants that work for the characters in Austen’s novels. Acting as narrators in this retelling, they interject at points throughout the show, breaking the fourth wall to interact with the audience. Filling us in on parts of the story and making observations on the ridiculousness of not only of those they serve, but the rules and restraints of the society in which they live.
The performance begins with a boisterous energy and a rendition of ‘Everyday I Write The Book’ by Elvis Costello, which sets the mood for the rest of the show – upbeat and funny. The cast is made up of a 5 strong all female company - a wonderful creative choice when we think about the fact Austen’s female characters all face a lack of agency as result of their gender. In fact, even Austen herself wrote under a pseudonym in a bid to avoid the patriarchal hostility women faced in the creative industries in Georgian times, so it feels like a wonderful homage to Austen to have women at the front and centre of this production.
The five actresses in the show take on multiple roles, covering all the iconic parts between themselves. Leaving the stage as a Bennett sister and reappearing as a Bingley, or playing a hyper ventilating Mrs Bennett one minute and a dashing and stern Mr Darcy, the next. All five actresses handle these transitions with wonderous ease, never missing a beat when it comes to their comedic timing and characterisation.
Lucy Gray was a particular highlight playing both Mr Bingley and his sister Caroline to thunderous laughter whilst attempting to attract Darcy’s attentions. Similarly, Dannie Harris creates both a wonderful caricature of Mrs Bennett; anachronistic inhaler included to calm her nerves as well as the dashingly iconic Mr Darcy. Leah Jamieson also shone, particularly in her role as Mary Bennett, a woman of few words, yet who managed to steal the show every time she appeared on stage. Additionally, Megan Louise Wilson’s most memorable role was Lady de Burgh, a pompous woman (with a fabulous costume) who commanded the stage upon her few appearances.
Emmy Stonelake played the role of Elizabeth Bennett and, unlike the other actresses, stayed in this role for most of the performance. Stonelake’s Elizabeth was brash and loud; full of opinions and witty comebacks, someone you would most definitely want to be friends with. Her rendition of ‘You’re so vain’ sung towards Mr Darcy was without a doubt a comedic highlight of the night.
Whilst songs feature in this show, this is not a musical per se. Music is included as a vehicle to allow the characters to express themselves, as well as speeding up the narrative. A real variety of songs are used, all with handheld microphones in karaoke style. From ‘At Last’ by Etta James (sung on horseback!) to Carole King’s ‘Will You Love Me Tomorrow?’, the use of these songs are effective in breaking up some of the wordier scenes and further adding to the entertainment and silliness of the show.
One of the things I most enjoyed about this show is its accessibility. As Isobel McArthur stated herself, Austen isn’t always an ‘easy read’ and there often stems from this a level of snobbery around her work. This show makes Austen’s work accessible to all, whilst also feeling as though the audience are being let in on something secret. The inclusion of servants as narrators, with their knowing winks and observations to the audience allows us a shrewd understanding of Austen’s often scathing social commentary and sub-text without being patronising.
Whilst the use of the servants as a narrative tool is a wonderful idea, I can’t help but wish it had been used more. We hear the servants profess their importance in all of Austen’s stories; particularly the integral part they play in making love stories happen, after all, no great love affair can happen without freshly clean bedsheets. Yet their importance doesn’t seem to be fully realised throughout the show. They fade back into the shadows as the show progresses, which really is a shame as the occasions they are used as narrators are extremely effective.
The set upon which the action takes place is made up mostly of a large staircase, almost immediately recognisable as Georgian. A series of doors and cupboards are a clever design feature of Ana Inés Jabares-Pita’s set, providing an additional space for the many quick changes throughout the show. A special mention must also go to one of the funniest set pieces; Mr Bennett himself. Presented as just an armchair and floating newspaper, this a genius and funny touch as Mr Bennett is overshadowed by the women around him.
McArthur and Simon Harvey’s direction should also be commended; this is a show that is pacey despite its often-wordy scenes and that is largely down to its tremendous energy and direction. There are a lot of props and outfit changes to deal with, but all are handled with ease and comedic flourishes, never feeling clunky or awkward.
Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) feels very much born out of the pop culture of our time- a kind of Six/ Bridgerton hybrid yet retains and indeed creates its own identity. Most of us have seen an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice at some point in our lives, but this show still manages to deliver something fresh and new. Its wonderful cast and witty writing make this a comedy absolutely worth seeing and the standing ovation it received is surely a testament to that.
Pride and Prejudice* (*Sort Of) plays at Richmond Theatre until Saturday 18th February 2023 before it embarks on a UK tour, tickets can be purchased here- Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) | February 2023 | Richmond Theatre, Richmond | ATG Tickets.
Photos by Matt Crockett