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BrumHour saw Pride and Prejudice* (*Sort Of) at the invite of Birmingham Rep.
By Eleanor Lawson twitter.com/Elle_Lawson
Pride and Prejudice* (*Sort Of)
at Birmingham Rep
Directed by Paul Brotherston, written by Isobel McArthur after Jane Austen
There’s been a trend recently of shows that reinterpret literary canon through a modern feminist perspective: Birmingham Rep’s Jekyll and Hyde, Frankenstein at Belgrade Theatre in Coventry, and now Pride and Prejudice* (*Sort of). The smash-hit musical Six in which Henry VIII’s six ex-wives (or five ex-wives and a widow, as my co-presenter, Dave Massey, regularly reminds me) comes closest to this adaptation of Pride and Prejudice by transposing pop music and contemporary feminism onto a narrative audiences already know to bring out a new sense of the radical to the story.
This is what makes the musical form so apt for the play, and every song is perfectly selected for the romantic turmoil of each character. Not a single person in the audience wasn’t howling with laughter when Lizzy refutes Darcy calling her the plainest girl in the room by dedicating Carly Simon’s You’re So Vain to him – it’s my most vivid memory of the entire show.
While the show teases aspects of Austen’s novel, it does so reverently, and knows the audience views the 200-year-old novel with the same adoration. Mr Darcy walks into Pemberley bone dry and is pestered by his servants to go for a swim in the fountain, giving the audience the Colin Firth reference most of them have been waiting for. And while the Bennet sisters swear with ingenious imagination and belt out the best pop songs of the past thirty years, the spine of Austen’s story remains fixed in this faithful adaptation of the nineteenth-century novel.
It’s arguably the novel’s characters that have made the novel endure through the centuries to still be the beloved work it is today, so a lot of pressure rides on the performers here. Luckily, each of them is stellar. Isobel McArthur shows phenomenal range, morphing between the hysterical Mrs Bennet who thinks a Vienetta in a plastic bag can win over the Bingleys’ hearts, to brooding, proud romantic hero Mr Darcy who doesn’t crack a single smile in the play’s first half.
Meghan Tyler has the difficult job of being the play’s beating heart as Elizabeth, but her biting sarcasm and unrelenting love for her sisters makes you want to fight half of the characters on stage to protect her – not that she needs it. Her rejection of everything society wants her to make you hope that you’d be Elizabeth if you were born into the Bennet clan. Another comedic genius, Hannah Jarrett-Scott is every home-county Tory you see in sitcoms as both Mr and Miss Bingley, which makes her role as repressed lesbian Charlotte Lucas who dotes on Lizzy but must have a marriage of convenience with Mr Collins even more heartbreaking.
I rarely hear laughter this loud in an audience, not least from myself. It’s a night of pure enjoyment – who doesn’t want to see their favourite literary characters warbling to Kylie?
Pride and Prejudice* (* Sort Of) is at Birmingham Rep until 2nd November. Book tickets here: birmingham-rep.co.uk/whats-on/pride-and-prejudice-sort-of.html
This isn’t a sponsored post.
Eleanor Lawson produces Interval Theatre Tuesdays at 3pm on Brum Radio.