Touring – reviewed at Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Guest reviewer: Hugh Simpson
Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of), presented by the Lyceum with the Tron, Glasgow and Blood of the Young, is a constantly surprising and endlessly entertaining affair.
The title certainly deserves qualification as anyone anticipating the stiff, crinolines-and-bonnets version of Jane Austen that audiences have come to expect could easily be taken aback by what happens here.
Isabel McArthur’s adaptation of the story is presented by an all-female cast, representing the servants in the big houses, and soon becomes a riotous, karaoke-fuelled display that effortlessly bridges the divide between Regency times and the present day – not least by using some decidedly colourful language.
Pride and Prejudice has survived more drastic rewritings than this – recently as both a murder mystery and a zombie movie – and what has to be stressed at the outset is that this is a remarkably faithful retelling of the original, as well as being a wonderfully energetic and compelling piece of theatre in its own right.
Austen’s story of love, social class, self-worth and waspish irony has too often been presented as a hidebound piece of ‘heritage’ rather than treating the source on its own terms, and McArthur’s script– personal though it is – comes closer to the feel of the book than many more ‘faithful’ adaptations.
Modern songs, courtesy of Michael John McCarthy’s sparkling sound design, fit in surprisingly well, giving rise to a joke about Lady Catherine de Bourgh as well as providing an explanation for Mr Darcy’s remark about ‘not performing to strangers’ that has puzzled so many.
The six-strong cast are enviably versatile, playing a huge variety of roles with conviction and spot-on comic timing. If some of the characterisations are on the broad side, others have considerable emotional impact.
Meghan Tyler, as central character Elizabeth Bennet, turns in a particularly well-judged performance, being utterly contemporary and thoroughly believable while never losing sight of the original story and setting. McArthur’s buttoned-up Mr Darcy and expansive Mrs Bennet are effectively contrasting performances.
Christina Gordon’s Jane (the eldest Bennet sister) and Hannah Jarrett-Scott’s Charlotte Lucas are both wonderfully drawn, realistic characterisations, with both performers showing their range with far more overtly comic portrayals of other characters.
tightness and cohesion
Tori Burgess and Felixe Forde, meanwhile, are in complete command of the comic elements of their various roles.
Paul Brotherston’s direction is full of non-stop invention, aided greatly by Emily Jane Boyle’s choreography. A touring run has given the production a real tightness and cohesion, while sacrificing none of the freshness and fun that is still evident.
Isobel McArthur and Hannah Jarrett-Scott. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic
Ana Ines Jabares-Pita’s design is imposing and inventive, and the whole production has enough fizz and ideas for several shows.
At times the pace threatens to overwhelm the story – there is a beautifully staged sequence at the end of the first half that degenerates into a gloriously staged drunken stushie, which is thoroughly impressive but not entirely in keeping with the narrative.
Some of the more political and contemporary points, moreover, are hammered home by the dialogue unnecessarily when they are already implicit in what is being shown.
However, none of this really detracts from a production that has a superbly wide frame of reference, and which is thought-provoking as well as being sheer good fun.
Running time 2 hours 50 minutes including one interval
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Grindlay Street, EH3 9AX
Thursday 23 January – Saturday 15 February 2020
Tues – Sat 7.30 pm; Sun 6.00 pm; Matinees Wed and Sat at 2.00 pm
Information and tickets: Book here
Hannah Jarrett-Scott, Felixe Forde, Meghan Tyler, Tori Burgess, Christina Gordon, Isobel McArthur. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic