Already hailed a hit from its original run in Glasgow, and subsequent tour, Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of) arrives in the West End with a commitment from producer, David Pugh, that ticket prices will be affordable enough to encourage audiences back to the theatre. If that wasn’t enough, The Tron Theatre Glasgow, Royal Lyceum Edinburgh, and Blood of The Young’s production already gives audiences the incentive of being a hilarious and irreverent retelling of Jane Austen’s most famous novel.
The premise is that in this style of book, the servants are always present, but their story rarely receives a satisfactory ending. To be fair, Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of) doesn’t quite achieve that either, but it does make the downstairs staff the stars of the show. The play unfolds as the all-female group dress up as the protagonists of Austen’s story and re-enact the key scenes that have shaped their master’s lives.
The servants might be putting their own spin on things; this is a feminist retelling according to the show’s marketing, and the five female leads wear Doc Marten’s, sing into microphones, and swear like troopers in Isobel McArthur’s fantastically funny spin on the regency-era novel.
In this hybrid world, Tunnocks Teacakes and pineapple hedgehogs pass as canapés. The dialogue is rarely of the era, and the kind of language that is more likely to be heard in Glasgow’s Barras Market than in Longbourn ricochets off the spiral staircase of books that dominates Ana Inés Jabares-Pita’s set design.
The entire production seems to have the feel of a David Croft and Jimmy Perry sitcom, perhaps driven by the uncanny resemblance of one character to Peggy from Hi-De-Hi, but also lines such as “I do love balls” from Mrs Bennet (who is anticipating her next social engagement) and the use of outrageous and unlikely props throughout.
More importantly though, the style of the show is more deeply rooted in traditional Glasgow music halls, where big personalities won over tough crowds. The five strong cast, led by McArthur and comprising Tori Burgess, Christina Gordon, Hannah Jarrett-Scott and Meghan Tyler never miss a beat in a set of demanding performances that require them all to play multiple characters.
Every one of Austen’s characters is given the ‘sort of’ treatment; going big and bold in the way Austen may have done if she were writing Pride & Prejudice in modern times. Catherine de Bourgh becomes a regency version of Take The High Road’s Mrs Mack, while Bingley is a champagne swilling lad’s lad. As each inhabitant of Austen’s world becomes more outrageous than the last, the laughs in the auditorium just keep getting bigger and bigger.
To the team’s credit there seems to have been a real determination to include every single major plot point of the novel. But that does make for quite a lengthy run time which struggles to sustain the right levels of humour and irreverence throughout. Some of the longer spells of dialogue could easily be trimmed down to make for a snappier and more consistently entertaining production.
While this is by no means intended to be a musical, the inclusion of a string of eighties and nineties hits (often sung karaoke style) are a welcome addition, indeed, there could have been even more and no-one would have complained.
There’s no denying Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of) is madcap revelry topped off with a silk bonnet, but Isobel McArthur’s script is wildly funny and loaded with plenty of one-liners that are as effervescent as the Irn-Bru being sipped at the upper classes extravagant parties. From the West End of Glasgow to London’s West End, Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of) is the ideal show to encourage audiences back to the theatre, and have them roaring in the aisles when they get there.