Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) review – Regency West End romp is an Austen pop-tacular
The show runs at the Criterion Theatre
It was hard leaving my own snug home on a dark and stormy night to battle to the rainy West End to watch yet another adaptation of Jane Austen's perennial favourite. I was in a mood as foul as the weather by the time I took my seat.
But as it turned out, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed Blood of Youth's irreverent comic take on this most classic of romantic novels, which has arrived in time for a jolly Christmas from the Tron Theatre in Glasgow.
For one thing, the Criterion Theatre itself is such a joy to sit in – a gem that you don't get to see that often because it is so frequently home to long-running shows. The producer David Pugh must be hoping that P&P is another left-field success. Certainly its heart is huge and its delivery enthusiastic – both qualities that lend distinction.
Adapter and co-director (with Simon Harvey) Isobel McArthur plays fast and loose with the tone of Austen, introducing a lot of swearing and karaoke versions of many romantic belters from "You're So Vain" to "Holding Out for a Hero" and "Will You Love Me Tomorrow". But she remains remarkably truthful to the spirit and the story, unravelling the plot faithfully through to the end.
This is all the more remarkable given there are only five women on stage who first appear in petticoats as maids, offering their insights into the way the heroes and heroines of literature are entirely reliant on such servants but never mention them. I loved their arch commentary on what is going on, particularly the way that the money nexus dictates so much of the lovers' behaviour.
But on and around designer Ana Inés Jabares-Pita's sumptuous swooping staircase setting, the overall mood is not meta, but rather broad, full of infectious high-jinx: there's Irn Bru served at the Netherfield ball, a rubbish container marked Jane Aust Bin and a joke about Lady Catherine de Burgh which involves the singing of Chris de Burgh's "Lady in Red". Mr Bennet is depicted as an armchair, a newspaper and the occasional puff of smoke.
It's all very silly and very funny. Sometimes it goes over the top, but what is extraordinary is the way that by dint of wearing a jacket over a petticoat, or pulling on a dress or a different hat, all the actors change characters so effortlessly. Hannah Jarrett-Scott has enormous fun as a Hooray Henry of a Bingley, and even more swooshing around as his malicious sister, constantly trying to put herself into Darcy's sight-line. She also plays the trumpet. It is that kind of show.
McArthur herself pulls off an impressive double act as the disdainful Darcy (there's a lovely joke about his failure to emerge from a lake, dripping with water, as in the famous TV adaptation) and a gin-toting Mrs B while Christina Gordon invests even the drippy Jane with some spirit and Mr Wickham with a wicked slouch. Meghan Tyler is a robust and battling Lizzie, while Tori Burgess mops up the rest.
I suspect you need to know Pride and Prejudice to cope with the swaps of character all this involves, but what is striking for lovers of the book is just how much emotion and affection is invested here, under all the swearing, singing and pratfalls. Four stars is probably a generous rating, but it's a generous show.