Thursday, 4 November 2021

REVIEW: Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) at the Criterion Theatre

Settling into the gorgeous Criterion Theatre to see Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) the first thing that strikes you is the stunning set, featuring a winding staircase that almost drips books at its core, which leaves you in no doubt that you have entered Austen territory. This is a show that is coming to the West End in style. 

From the moment the cast first comes onstage as the servants of the house their brilliant comic timing, and ability to build a relationship with the audience shines through. These are characters who aren’t afraid to speak up for themselves, often addressing the audience directly, as they retell the well-known story with sharp wit and boundless energy. 

As they come together into the first song, leaning into the style of a sixties girl group, it becomes clear that they can not only sing beautifully, they know how to have fun with familiar tropes. Throughout the show, their choice of well-known songs slip hilariously into the script and free the characters from the good old fashioned repressed Austen modes of communication. 

In fact, part of the reason the show works is because it doesn’t make fun of the original characters (any more than Austen does) to succeed. They still feel like the ones we know, but with a heck of a lot more ability to express themselves. Isobel McArthur’s take on Mrs Bennett, for example, is for me the most liked character - she’s still an embarrassing mum on the edge of her tether- but McArthur highlights both the relevancy of her concerns and her comedic potential. She becomes a driving force, who maybe occasionally has a little too much to drink and drops off into a box of Quality Street.

A similarly unpopular character in the original - Caroline Bingley - is transformed. She’s not a nicer person, never, but Hannah Jarrett-Scott’s performance makes her a character that you can’t wait to see back again. With the poshest accent going and a thinly (barely) veiled hatred for everyone but Darcy, every nasty comment and dodgy seduction attempt has the audience bursting out laughing. On the flip side Jarrett-Scott’s performance as Charlotte, whilst still funny, portrays the character in a new light which adds depth to Charlotte’s character. 

For the majority of the characters, the show remains sympathetic to them, and their added outbursts, songs, and embarrassing moments feel like they come from three-dimensional comic characters. Elizabeth in particular feels like someone we all know - she’s flawed, funny, and making the cringeworthy kinds of mistakes we all make after a couple drinks. Apart from the more straightforwardly dislikable characters (Mr Collins, Wickham, Catherine De Burgh, etc) the only ones that somewhat lack this are their base characters - the servants. 

Despite being central to this play, and very funny, they still lack individuality and exist as props to the story. This works well as a set-up, it’s just that when the play points out how we overlook the role of servants in these romances, it seems a shame to see them still so often pushed into the background. 

However, the actors all shine as they switch between clearly defined and contrasting characters at the speed of light, and play with the fact of their small cast itself, making jokes out of the changes and some conspicuously missing characters. Tori Burgess is particularly good at this, as she switches between a very teenaged Lydia, poor Mary (who just wants to have a sing), and a Mr Collins who reaches impressive new levels of creepy.

They aren’t afraid to be silly, and it works. Christina Gordon is hilarious, for example, appearing out of thin air like something out of a horror movie as Catherine De Burgh, or turning into a full-blown angsty lad as Wickham, going for a smoke out back by the ‘Aust-bins’.

Overall the show is chaotic but in the best possible way. Sometimes it is rushed, sometimes a joke isn’t perfect - but it doesn’t matter, because it never stops being fun for a second. I couldn’t give it less than five stars because I didn’t once stop smiling or wonder what time it was - from start to finish, theirs was a telling I was more than happy to be caught up in. McArthur’s take on the classic never fails to surprise, pulling un-predictably comic moments out of every reference, character, and trope on offer. This is a wonderful show to go see to have a really great laugh and leave with a big smile on your face - Pride and Prejudice fan or not!

Review by Jasmine Silk

Rating: ★★★★★

Seat: L15, Stalls | Price of Ticket: £59.50
Blog Design by pipdig