Author and performer Isobel McArthur's interpretation of Jane Austen's Pride & Prejudice sticks to the conventions of the period and makes clear the sexual inequality of the age, but these Bennet sisters answer back. McArthur's celebratory mash-up of the novel is a mad, sweary and ruthless adaptation but let's face it, match-making in the 19th century was as much about survival as it was about love.
Pride and Prejudice ***(*sort of) started life at Tron Theatre Glasgow, and feels like an appropriate fit for the Criterion; for many years, this West End venue was the home of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged) which put a comic spin on the works of the Bard. In McArthur's own fast and loose adaptation, the Meryton Ball serves up Irn-Bru, Wagon Wheels and karaoke with Elizabeth Bennet burning D'Arcy with Carly Simon's 'You're So Vain'. Lady Catherine insists that Chris De Burgh's 'Lady In Red' is the only appropriate song for polite company and when things look bad for the Bennet clan, they join forces for a chorus of 'I Need A Hero'. They also punch out a few nifty moves, thanks to some Emily Jane Boyle’s wholly unclassical choreography.
Tori Burgess, Isobel McArthur, Hannah Jarrett-Scott, Christina Gordon, Meghan Tyler. Photo by Matt Crockett.
As an actor McArthur is marvellous as both the haughty Mr Darcy and the far more garrulous Mrs Bennet. Two plum roles that require very different scales of comic timing. Hannah Jarrett-Scott proves even more versatile as both Bingleys – Caroline and Charles – although they look nothing alike. Jarret-Scott also plays Elizabeth’s bestie Charlotte, who McArthur has silently pining with unrequited love for the most spirited Bennet sister. Meghan Tyler is a breath of fresh air as Elizabeth, her broad Northern Irish brogue ripping through the sensibilities of the period like a dose of salts. In fact all the women of the Bennet household including Christina Gordon as Jane and Tori Burgess as Mary are outspoken and to some extent industrious, while an inert Mr Bennet is played by an armchair, occasionally surrounded in pipe smoke.
Is this your typical West End blockbuster? Well, sort of. With its fancy dress wardrobe and ballsy attitude there’s a definite fringe theatre sensibility to this production, despite Ana Ines Jabares-Pita’s set dominated by an impressive, sweeping staircase. Smart, slick direction from McArthur and Simon Harvey means it doesn’t drag, but two and a half hours might prove a sticking point with some people. However if you are looking for fresh, fast-paced comedy with an Eighties back catalogue of hits then Pride and Prejudice ***(*sort of) could be the perfect match.
REVIEWED BY: PAUL VALE