18th Nov, 2019

Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) at Birmingham Rep is a raucous romp

Bromsgrove Editorial 16th Oct, 2019 Updated: 16th Oct, 2019

TO BE honest I’ve never really been excited by the literary works of Jane Austen.

I tried watching her ‘Sanditon’ currently showing on television but gave up halfway through the first episode.

Picture by Mihaela Bodlovic. s

I know ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is regarded as one of Britain’s best-loved books and I’ve tried to read it – honestly! – Because I felt I should, at least once a decade for the past 50 years but never completed the mission.

I have however seen the 2005 film version starring Keira Knightly and Mathew Macfadyen  so I know the story is about Mr Bennett’s five little girls who can’t inherit the estate because they’re not chaps!

They must therefore: ‘marry well’.

I don’t know what I was expecting from this co-production between ‘The Royal Lyceum’,’Tron Theatre’, ‘Blood of the Young’, ‘Birmingham REP’, ‘Bristol Old Vic’, ‘Leeds Playhouse’, ‘Northern Stage’, ‘Nuffield Southampton’ and ‘Oxford Playhouse’ (phew!) but with such a list of theatrical royalty it had to be something special – and indeed it was!

Picture by Mihaela Bodlovic. s

Writer and adapter Isobel McArthur gripped me with her version where Jane Austen failed.

The ‘sort of’ in the title is all embracing really.

It’s ‘sort of’ the original story – I was told by eminent Austen aficionados that nothing is left out – ‘sort of’ a musical – but not really, more a ‘sort of’ clever karaoke, ‘sort of’ an upstairs-downstairs comedy bordering on farce and yes, ‘sort-of’ a period drama brought bang up to date.

McArthur also appears as one of the magnificent cast of six women who multi-task and gender to create an evening of pure magic with a little madness and much mayhem. She is joined by Tori Burgess, Felixe Forde, Christina Gordon, Hannah Jarrett-Scott and Meghan Tyler – all of them offering up an equal amount of talent, energy and pure cheek with a Scottish accent.

Picture by Mihaela Bodlovic. s

Paul Brotherston obviously enjoyed directing this wondrous romp – there are so many clever moments, so much humour and – where  necessary – poignancy.

You can feel the skilled hand of a craftmaster at work gently sewing together the ideas and talents of this inclusive and collective all-female company.

Being in the audience was almost like being invited to a private party where everyone’s got interesting stories to tell – there is even one point when we are asked: “Are we all OK for drinks?”

Jane Austen was a spirited lady – I’m sure she would approve of McArthur’s hilarious 21st century take.

Picture by Mihaela Bodlovic. s

Despite all the humour the voices are strong and cleverly turn the tables on historic male dominance, with a nod to feminism whilst offering a big shout out to equality.

This ‘Pride & Prejudice’ is not ‘sort of’ but definitely bold, innovative and infectiously entertaining.

Pride & Prejudice* (*Sort Of) runs at the Birmingham Rep until November 2.

Click here for times, tickets and more information.

****

Review by Euan Rose.

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