Jane Austen’s timeless story of the Bennet family has seen countless retellings and stage adaptations all claiming to own something that sets them apart from the rest. However, it is unlikely that any of these attempts begin to even approach the sheer amount of originality, authenticity, hilarity and Doc Martens than Isobel MacArthur’s ridiculously entertaining Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of) so effortlessly possesses, currently playing at Edinburgh’s Royal Lyceum Theatre until the 15th February 2020.
The adaptation starts with a love letter to the unsung heroes of these romances, the cleaners and servants in the family houses. The cleaners claim that none of these stories would happen if it weren’t for them, before recreating the story themselves. What ensues is nothing short of an unapologetically silly, fun, subtly political tour de force of physical and written comedy from a cast of equally wonderful performers.
With Pride & Prejudice* (*Sort of) having considerably large dramaturgical shoes to fill, MacArthur’s razor sharp script overflows them with two and a half hours of perfectly timed comedy (enhanced by Paul Brotherson’s fluid and precise direction), shrewd observations on the sexist societal norms of the time period in which it was set, all while staying true to the original text and honouring Jane Austen while maintaining what makes her story so memorable.
It’s very rare that I’ve come across a cast with such chemistry and skills that are emphasised by each other’s performances. With each performer playing an average of four characters each, you’d expect it to be easy to be confused with the fast-paced exchanges, especially when paired with the often frantic physical comedy presented. However, it couldn’t be easier to keep up and stay gripped and thoroughly entertained throughout.
Each performer also demonstrates excellent musicianship throughout the musical numbers, staged and performed in a wonderfully silly karaoke style (with some absolute bangers in the playlist, might I add), as well as to underscore even the more serious and sincere scenes. Christina Gordon’s beautiful playing of the harp is a particular highlight.
Possibly the most charming aspect of this adaptation is how it flies in the face of the societal norms of those times of how women should act, much like the original text, however it is how MacArthur’s script transports these beloved characters to modern-day settings, as if it’s a glorious combination of Downton Abbey and Sex Education, laced with political satire, poking fun at today’s political climate that sets this adaptation above any that I’ve seen prior.
Pride & Prejudice* (*Sort Of) is a triumph, in comedy, music & ensemble theatre. A breath of fresh air that couldn’t have come at a better time for The Lyceum. Having already spent the last four months raking up glowing reviews and a tremendous amount of hype, its justified to speculate on whether such a piece is worth said hype. This is. For fans of theatre, comedy, even just an excellent night out, this piece is, well and truly, worth the hype.