Monday, April 24th 2023, at Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House.
To date, this fabulous show has had quite a journey and some impressive success. Way back in 2018, Isobel McArthur penned a lively, playfully irreverent adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic with Glasgow audiences in mind. Fast-forward to 2023, and the show (with a few revisions) has enjoyed full houses on tour and in the West End, a bunch of awards (nominations and wins) and record-breaking box office numbers.
So what’s so mighty about this take on Pride and Prejudice – a beloved satirical look at life and relationships when match-making is as much about survival as it is about stumbling upon true love? In short: it’s incredibly clever, it’s absolutely packed with theatrical flair and it somehow balances the comically ridiculous with real sincerity when it counts. It’s certainly a very modern approach from McArthur, complete with bursts of well-placed karaoke to offset the notorious “emotional repression” of the era (Musical Supervisor: Michael John McCarthy), but it’s worth highlighting that this show is also very affectionate and surprisingly faithful to the original – there’s no Austen-bashing here folks.
Now, a cast of just five bring all of Austen’s varied characters to life, so they’ve got their work cut out. Beginning and ending as the overlooked maids of Regency era England, they play dress up while the masters and mistresses aren’t looking to take us through the whirlwind romances of Pride and Prejudice – with plenty of hilarious twists. McArthur also directs, along with Simon Harvey, with fun choreography from Emily Jane Boyle and comedy staging from Jos Houben. Between them, they create wonderful merry mayhem complete with a hundred clever details and some cracking surprises.
So, when a cast of five perform such a sweeping narrative, canny staging is needed. Ana Inés Jabares-Pita’s designs go an awful long way here. Clever costuming transforms actors by the second, while set both highlights the show’s celebration of literature and provides plenty of opportunities for spectacle and comedy entrances and exits. Colin Grenfell’s lighting designs likewise offer everything from classic romantic backdrops to the odd nod at thriller jump-scares – yup, the show really is full of surprises.
And the new cast are decidedly at home, playing to individual strengths just as the cast before them did. All have great comedy chops and all make swift and dexterous work of the many roles they undertake. Lucy Gray’s take on the “nothing alike” Bingleys is beautifully done, giving Caroline in particular all the room she needs to shine. Megan Louise Wilson offers a sweet, sweet Jane, a loudly cantankerous Lady Catherine and a heavily theatrical George Wickham – in fact, he almost gives Caroline a run for her money…
Dannie Harris takes on the famous Mrs B at the height of her social mobility cravings with great put-upon airs, and gives brooding Fitzwilliam Darcy his scowling rights with great gusto. Leah Jamieson’s much-wronged and overlooked but very hilarious Mary is equally as entertaining as her glacial drawl as Mr Collins. Emmy Stonelake’s Lizzie Bennet feels like a bit more of a gutsy reinvention here: the witty but usually quite measured Elizabeth becomes a real force of nature who takes no prisoners… and who might just sock Darcy if he gets much bigger for his boots. Oh, and Mr Bennet is also brilliantly played…
Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) certainly livens up the adaptation scene and raises the bar for refreshing adaptations of classics. It’s a show which is all about great fun and big laughs – what’s not to love?
Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) is at Leeds Grand Theatre and Opera House until April 29th 2023 – you can find tickets here. The show then tours until June 24th 2023 and you can find more information and tickets here.
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