They say the old stories are the best, and few are as well loved or iconic as Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. A brand new adaptation of this much-loved classic is now playing in the West End and promises to be a faithful and sensitive update to the original text.... sort of.
First written in 1813 (making it the right age to play Evan Hansen in a movie), Pride and Prejudice has been hurled into the 21st Century kicking and screaming... not to mention swearing. If the very idea of that makes you say "Good heavens" and faint on to your chaise lounge, you might want to stop reading now. This is Pride and Prejudice as you have never seen it before. This production was first seen in Glasgow in 2018 and has now made the leap from one West End to another, standing out with its brilliantly camp exterior towering over the heart of Piccadilly circus.
Produced by David Pugh, Pride & Prejudice (Sort of) is a rollicking rollercoaster over a hilarious two and a bit hours. The heart of the original story is there somewhere, it now just features modern day language, 21st Century cereal and karaoke as well. Name me any show that wouldn't be made better with all of that? Phantom, I'm looking at you! The aforementioned karaoke allows the show to be neither a play, nor a musical but some strange hybrid where a cast member grabs a microphone to belt out a camp classic. It might sound strange but it absolutely works. Not only that, it's sensational! The uses of the songs border on genius with 'You're so Vain' being one of the highlights, and 'Young Hearts Run Free' ending the affair on a high.
The superstar cast of five take on multiple roles throughout. Bookending the show as the underwritten oft-forgotten servants, they play the sisters, the mother and even the men, impressing with incredibly quick changes allowing them to transform seamlessly from one to another. Writer Isobel McArthur is joined by Tori Burgess, Christina Gordon, Hannah Jarrett-Scott and Meghan Tyler to create one of the most impressive groups of women you will see on a West End stage. Think Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour meets Derry Girls - mixed in with a bit of Six (or Five in this case). The result is a resounding success - a show that doesn't take itself too seriously, keeping its tongue firmly in its cheek while paying tribute to its source material.
It would be hard to single out any of the performers as all of the five have standout moments themselves. Isobel McArthur glides effortlessly from Mr Darcy to the very subtle and not at all overly dramatic mother, while Hannah Jarrett-Scott shows fantastic versatility in her roles including standout moments as Charles Bingley while also providing a rare emotional moment in the show as she battles with a sensitive portrayal of unrequited love as Charlotte.
A sparse stage with a giant staircase built with books sets the tone for the show which, through very unconventional methods, is essentially a love letter to classic literature. The props that do make an appearance don't need to be necessarily grand - they do the job at hand, with a particularly amazing cameo from a horse - and just wait to see how they achieve changes in the weather.
The strength in this show is the material. Wickedly funny, there won't be a minute you don't find yourself laughing at something. Brilliant lines, foul mouthed outbursts and genius sight gags involving some fantastic props mean there is always something to keep you amused throughout. The cast are clearly having the time of their lives on the stage and that extends to the audience who can feel like invited guests to a party (and a bit of audience interaction only heightens that). A hilarious pre-show routine sets the tone perfectly and eases you in, while simultaneously terrifying you that the show has already started without you realising.
Austen purists may frown upon this update but my advice for them would be to lighten up and enjoy the ride. Pride & Prejudice (Sort of) is the kind of fun West End audiences have been crying out for. The perfect example of the kind of escapism theatre can provide when it is done right, even Mr Darcy would surely raise a smile at this brilliant show. Stupidly clever... or cleverly stupid, get yourself down to the Criterion and experience the best thing Jane Austen has ever written... sort of.
Pride & Prejudice (Sort of) plays the Criterion Theatre. Tickets from www.prideandprejudicesortof.com