Mary Woodward Review

Pride and Prejudice (sort of), Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, Review

***** (5 stars)

“Gloriously fast, funny, and full of joy”

How do you even begin to describe this incredible show?  For those of you who don’t know the story, here goes: the rest of you can skip this bit…

Mr and Mrs Bennet have five daughters.  In the event of Mr Bennet dying before any one of the girls is married, they and their mother will be virtually penniless, as their home and all it contains will pass to Mr Bennet’s only male relative, Mr Collins.  Mr Bennet concerns himself not at all with this parlous state of affairs, but it is Mrs Bennet’s sole concern to get all five girls married as quickly as possible – never mind whether the match is suitable, or the bride likely to be happy: the important thing is that she is wed.

Mr Bingley – young, rich, and unmarried – rents a house in the district, and instantly Mrs Bennet is determined that he shall marry her eldest daughter, Jane.  His friend Mr Darcy – young, much richer and also single – is everyone’s target until he is seen to be too proud to mix with the locals: Elizabeth, the second daughter is slighted by him and she takes instantly against him – which is, of course, the sign that she is interested but will not admit it.  Her mother insists that Elizabeth should marry the loathsome Mr Collins – Lizzie refuses, and instead he marries her best friend, Charlotte Lucas.

Mary, the middle sister, is constantly overlooked, and the two youngest girls, Kitty and Lydia, spend all their time chasing the soldiers who have been billeted in the area.   The most charming of these is George Wickham, who grew up with Darcy and was favoured by Darcy’s father but, as he soon tells Elizabeth, the fortune he should have received from the father’s will was denied him by the son.  Darcy adds to his crimes by separating his friend from Jane Bennet, leaving her with a broken heart. 

At first looking with extreme disfavour on Elizabeth Bennet, Darcy finds himself falling ever deeper in love with her until, despite his misgivings about the behaviour and social standing of his intended’s family, he proposes marriage.   He is astounded when she rejects him, accusing him of ruining both her sister’s happiness and that of George Wickham.  He writes her a letter explaining his conduct: at first Elizabeth refuses to believe what he says but slowly is forced to acknowledge the truth of what he says.  Her feelings too are changing – and when she accidentally encounters him at his home in Derbyshire, she sees a gentler and friendlier side of him. 

Their growing accord is shattered when Elizabeth receives the news that her youngest sister, Lydia, has eloped with Wickham.  Elizabeth fears she has lost him just as she realises he is the one man who would make her perfect mate….  Will they stay estranged for ever, or will fate, in the unlikely form of Darcy’s aunt, Lady Catherine de Burgh, be the good fairy who brings them together?

The story is told by the servants, who comment freely to us on all the people they serve – remember, they will have seen everyone naked, and at their worst as well as at their best.  Nothing is hidden from servants who so often are simply standing there, the silent witnesses to all that goes on: and during the Napoleonic wars, the majority of them would have been women – all the men were off in the army. 

It’s a wonderful, witty, joyful, outrageous tour de force.  Five actresses – Tori Burgess, Christina Gordon, Hannah Jarrett-Scott, Isobel McArthur [who also wrote the show] and Leah Jamieson – not only play all the major characters in the Jane Austen novel but also the servants without whom the whole edifice of society would have collapsed.  No one to cook and serve meals, no one to wash linen and make beds, no-one to help dress and care for the clothes – and no-one to empty the ubiquitous chamber pots…  On top of all this they sing, they dance, they shift furniture and props, and provide most of the music, playing piano, trumpet, harp, piano accordion and glockenspiel!

What I find fascinating about this show is its ability to be faithful to the Austen narrative while showing it in a whole new light and with language Miss Austen would never have dreamed of.  The cast burst into karaoke-style song at the drop of a hat and the songs are perfectly matched to the moment – just think of Elizabeth’s response to Darcy’s criticism of her at the Meryton ball –You’re so vain [I bet you think this song is about you].  Add to this lightning-swift costume and character changes: just change whatever you’re wearing over your simple white dress and Mrs Bennet becomes Mr Darcy, Bingley becomes his sister Caroline, Jane becomes Wickham: and all the while Mr Bennet stays in his armchair, hidden behind his newspaper…  The pace never lets up and the laughs come thick and fast.

The costumes varied enormously, reflecting their wearers’ characters – Charlotte Lucas wore an extremely drab frock, Charles Bingley a terrible purple and green “tartan” jacket, while his sister Caroline wore an outrageously extravagant garment in the same fabric.  Elizabeth and Jane’s frocks were pretty simple, but Lady Catherine De Burgh’s was sumptuous in the extreme, and topped with a massively feathered hat.  The set had a wonderful sweeping staircase which led down into a large area which could become the interior of the various mansions in which the action takes place – when the backcloth became star-studded black velvet, it simply took one’s breath away.  The props were simply inspired – my favourites being Jane’s horse, Darcy’s portrait at Pemberley, and the scarlet dumpster…

I could go on for ever about how and why this show is so good!  It’s gloriously fast, funny, and full of joy.  It has an extremely clever script and brilliant music, and the cast sparkle with the life and vigour that abounds in Glasgow, the city of its birth.  Pride and Prejudice (sort of) is an exhilarating romp through one of the most famous novels in the English language, with more than one nod to previous adaptations for film and tv.  It leaves you feeling happy, inspired and uplifted as you leave the Lyceum and face up to the challenges of your everyday life.  The audience obviously felt all this – the cast were given a standing ovation at the final curtain call: we didn’t want to let them go.

The run ends on November 5th – get your tickets now!

Pride and Prejudice (sort of), Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh, Production runs until Saturday 5th November, for tickets go to: Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) | The Lyceum | Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh

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