Review Pride and Prejudice 2019
Let's hear it for the girls
If there is one show you should see, book your tickets, at any price, for Pride And Prejudice (Sort Of) is at Bristol Old Vic Theatre until Saturday, September 28.
Jane Austen’s classic 220-year-old love story is both honoured and entirely set on its head in an all-female Regency romp with plenty of classic, sugar-sweet pop song. Eat your heart out Mama Mia. The performance received a totally deserved standing ovation.
Six young women have a story to tell. You see them as servants first (and last), emptying chamber pots, battering dusty carpets and sweeping ash from grates like so many Cinderellas; the overlooked and undervalued making sure those above stairs find their happy ending.
‘You can’t have a whirlwind romance without clean bedding,’ one says and off it kicks with Elvis Costello’s brilliant song Everyday I Write A Book.
I lost count of the number of men in the audience, clueless about the classic story, because they’d avoided this18th century novel like the plague, I heard saying they were going to read it and left smiling, with their equally beaming partners who knew the novel like the back of their hands.
The actors multi-tasked breezily through entangled romantic plots which Austen had so carefully woven through class structures with her theory that 'Love’s irrelevant. We are talking about marriage,’ but with a modern sweary directness that would have had Austen fainting – or possibly cheering.
I never thought any version of Austen was going to be a laugh-a-minute, let alone double that. How can I pick out the stars in such a stellar line up? Here goes.
Meghan Tyler – who plays snippy, intelligent, determined to marry-for-love Elizabeth, has a strangely malleable face that looks like a beautiful muppet and can express her feelings right across the stage, as if she’s standing next to you.
She leaves you in no doubt as to her revulsion for the creepy, ditch water-dull, Mr Collins, whom her mother is steering her to marry and save the family from poverty. Or her shock when her friend marries him and lines herself up for taking over the family inheritance.
Bright as she is, Elizabeth, is dumbfounded on realising Mr Darcy isn’t the monosyllabic moron, she thinks he is but has a steely heart of softest gold.
Strutting, arrogant, rich and single, Mr Darcy is played brilliantly by Isobel McAruthur who also doubles as the wonderful, histrionic, hypochondriac, mother-of-five girls, Mrs Bennett.
Oh, how she switches between the two roles, one-minute lolling on the chaise lounge saying she’ll die if her girls don’t marry and the next striding around as brooding Mr Darcy, eyeing Elizabeth to Carly Simon’s Your So Vain falling in love, even though the Bennett daughter is far beneath him socially. That goes down like a lead balloon.
The talented Charlotte Lucas is a bitchy posh rival, Miss Bingley, acid-tongued and swanning in lime green and feathers, determined to snaffle Darcy. This woman can merely raise an eyebrow to raise a laugh.
Director, Paul Brotherston has put together and incredibly clever, smooth, show. The multiple roles change seamlessly and scenery adapts from London, to Derbyshire and even country walks with woods, rivers and stiles are vivid with human props.
I loved how Mr Bennett is personified simply by a chair before an electric three-bar fire and newspaper. We never see ‘him’ only hear his irrelevant and ignored mutterings because frankly, any man with five marriageable daughters would probably be happy like that as his chair is shoved on and off stage.
And the songs, I never thought I’d hear Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow and I Got You Babe sung in the middle of a Regency ball while standing on a beer crate. There’s also Chris de Burgh’s Lady In Red spoof and heart-on-sleeve, songs by Divine Comedy and Chicago that perfectly suit the romantic storyline.
Designer, Ana Ines Babares=Pita has done a wonderful job of conjuring up the atmosphere of the 18th century with a 21st century twist, while choreographer, Emily Jane Boyle puts them through all the right paces and places.
This is an adaptation like no other. Drawing on more than 200 years of romantic pop history is Blood Of The Young’s unique take on a beloved novel.
Men, money and microphones are determinedly fought over in this loving and irreverent but ruthless match-making. Witty and sharp, intelligent and superbly acted. Don’t miss it.
Bristol Old Vic and Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh present a Tron Theatre Company and Blood of the Young production.
With co-producers Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Leeds Playhouse, Northern Stage, Nuffield Southampton Theatres and Oxford Playhouse.
BENNET BEVY: From left Meghan Taylor, Hannah Jarrett-Scott, Tori Burgess and Isobel McArthur. Photography by Mihaela Bodlovic, Tron Theatre 2018