Bristol Old Vic – until 28 September 2019
The reclaiming of narratives is hot right now. Bristol Old Vic currently is hosting two such works with Wild Swimming in the studio looking at the battle of the sexes through history with a female gaze while in the main house Blood of the Young is tackling the rom-com with a similar punkish attitude. It may not be Pride and Prejudice as seen by the servants as the marketing proclaims it – it is simply a device to allow the six to fling on a range of costume to run the whole range of Jane Austen’s characters – but it is a story that makes sure that the female roles stand front and centre, there is no chance Mr Darcy coming out of the lake in billowing white is going to eclipse them here.
Which is as it should be. After all, Austen’s novel is about five sisters and their mother, caught in a society that tells them that getting married to a suitable suitor is the only skin in the game they need. Here these six stand centre stage, even Darcy feels peripheral to their strong sisterly bond. Much like Six, that pushes King Henry to the sidelines to place the spotlight on his long-suffering wives, here the Bennett sisters get to take complete ownership of the stage and the story they tell.
Isobel McArthur’s adaptation is a riot, keeping the structure and narrative joins of the original, showcasing the robustness of the original, but freeing the language from the clipped, restrained Regency tone of Austen’s original for something earthier and expletive-filled. Karaoke tracks are littered throughout, from ‘I Think I Love You’ to the wonderfully pertinent ‘You’re So Vain’, dripping in dry Ulster cadence from Meghan Tyler’s heroine Elizabeth Bennett to Mr Darcy, the first time she encounters him.
McArthur’s adaption and Paul Brotherston’s production gives us the full English of the tale, every letter, ball and meeting in the wood is present and correct, which leads to a slightly convoluted running time that stretches close to three hours. It could afford to be braver in jettisoning some of the material to get closer to the griselled centre of the piece.
Yet it’s impossible to not be won over, with its Puckish energy and strong female voices rocking the Old Vic stage. Tyler, who is having a cracking 2019, after her play Crocodile Fever lit up the Traverse this Fringe, is a very modern Elizabeth, her arched eyebrow and dry humour marking her out as a worthwhile sparring adversary and romantic partner to Darcy. McArthur pulls off a great double, as the dour lover and garrulous Mrs Bennett, too fond of a drink and akin to shooting her mouth off. There is also fantastic turns from Tori Burgess as the song obsessed youngest Mary and Hannah Jarrett-Scott who as Tillie suggests that her desire may not lay with men in breeches and who also essays both of the Bingley siblings, who so dazzle the Bennett clan.
Ana Ines Jabares-Pita design frames the action in a grand Regency staircase which explodes with colour and sound as the evening wears on. This production, in association with The Tron and The Lyceum, feels punchy and urgent. It brings Austen into the heart of the contemporary world and makes a case for her continued popularity, a world away from the cosy Sunday night dramas most associate her with.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Pride and Prejudice #Sort Of is a cracking good night of theatre and one well-worth taking a punt on