Leave your Pride and Prejudice at the stage door! Isobel McArthur’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice is (sort of) fantastic.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice has been done.
Done as in there’s the Colin Firth version (or ‘The One With The Wet Shirt’), Kiera Knightley’s one, Bridget Jones’s Diary (Colin Firth again), and even Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Surely Austen has been covered from every possible stiff-upper-lip-turned-romantic-kiss angle, you ask?
Well, get yourself down to The Lowry this weekend and experience Pride and Prejudice (sort of), fresh from the West End. I say ‘experience’ because this isn’t the kind of Austen adaptation where you can just sit back and clock out. If you’ve ever wondered what would happen if the Bennets had access to karaoke, cheap prosecco, and a collection of pop hits, then you’re about to find out. The moment that Elizabeth Bennet sings ‘You’re So Vain’ to a chagrined Mr Darcy, you know you’re in for a treat. Expect plenty of hits (Pulp’s ‘Something Changed’ is a surprisingly touching moment in the play) and plenty of laughs.
The play begins before it begins, with cast members emerging from the audience dressed as maids. Just as the maids are the backbone of Regency society, they are the core of this production. McArthur brings their voices to the fore: more literally there’s also a terrific range of regional accents in the play. Emmy Stonelake is just perfect as a strident, hilarious, Welsh Elizabeth Bennet, and Leah Jamieson is a standout as sweary, raucous Lydia, slimy Mr Collins, and a perpetually ignored Mary.
There’s only five cast members in the whole production, all women, and plenty of switcheroos, double casting (triple, quadruple!), and costume fun. All the cast self-assuredly and mesmerisingly switch characters and costumes. The set and costumes create a kind of Bridgerton spliced with Coronation Street style effect, where you can just as easily imagine the Bennets sitting down to chat about the Kardashians as the Napoleonic War.
Because, as this production reveals, Austen is essentially very funny. It’s a testament to the strength of the actor’s stellar performances that there’s not a single bit of comedic juice that is not squeezed from this equally delightful script. It’s an on stage kaleidoscope of visual gags and one-liners, whilst the heart of the story is feminist and class-conscious.
McArthur’s excellent adaptation is one for our time, in the spirit of Austen’s time. Oh, and of course it brought the house down.
Pride and Prejudice (sort of) is at The Lowry until January 21.