I admit that I was sceptical about Pride and Prejudice* (*Sort Of) at first. It’s hard to make something fresh and unique when you’re walking on well-trodden ground. I was especially concerned when I saw the long running time. But Isobel McArthur’s comic adaptation of this Austen classic flies by; every minute pure joy, so much so that I don’t want it to end.
Featuring an all-female cast, Pride and Prejudice* (*Sort Of) remains surprisingly close to the original source material. The story and themes are the same. Mrs Bennett is desperate to marry off her daughters to future-proof the family against economic hardship. Elizabeth Bennett (Meghan Tyler) is smart and lively and resistant to the expectations that are put upon her. Mr Darcy (Isobel McArthur) appears to be aloof and unlikable. Yet, what’s different about this production is the unapologetic injection of modern humour. Sharply written jokes and fierce comic timing ensure plentiful laughs. There’s also singing. Karaoke and Austen might not seem like natural companions but watching the characters communicate their romantic desires through pop music is a delight.
The cast are charismatic in all their various roles. It’s difficult to compliment any one member in particular as everyone holds their own. As if playing multiple parts each wasn’t enough, they also play instruments. Harp, piano, maracas! You name it! A combination of Michael John McCarthy’s musical supervision and Paul Brotherson’s direction sees the action expertly sound tracked. Pride and Prejudice* (*Sort Of) feels a bit like a musical in the way it’s choreographed. Each movement is careful and behind the hilarity there’s impressive technical precision. Everything about the performance is polished. Costume changes are managed so that they aren’t obvious or intrusive. The production really is a wonderful example of talent meets imagination as the surprises keep on coming. No spoilers here, of course! It’s enough to say that the finale is very well conceived and in keeping with the gleeful, uplifting spirit of the piece.
All the elements of Pride and Prejudice* (*Sort Of) pull together to create a standout show. Everything, including the effective set design and wonderfully adaptable period costumes, works in its favour. It’s not just funny, either. There are moments of poignancy. For example, when Mr Darcy and Elizabeth Bennett kiss, it’s not played for laughs. Just because there’s playfulness here (and lots of it) doesn’t mean there isn’t emotional truth too.
There is nothing quite like the feeling of leaving the theatre only to want to turn around and watch a play all over again. I’ve told my friends about Pride and Prejudice* (*Sort Of). I’ve told them I’ll go and see it a second time. A rare, irreverent treat.
Pride and Prejudice* (*Sort Of) is playing Northern Stage until 12 October. For more information and tickets, visit the Northern Stage website.