Review: Pride and Prejudice: The Gay Panto, White Bear Theatre

Hidden away in a black box above The White Bear Pub in Kennington is Pride and Prejudice: The Gay Panto. Written by Kevin Quinn and performed by Waste Not Theatre, it not only includes drag, dance numbers and bawdy jokes but also constant bickering over who has the biggest… fortune.

Pride and Prejudice: The Gay Panto tries to bring every innuendo to the surface while following the original story of the novel by Jane Austen as much as possible.

The four sisters Jane (Kevin Quinn), Lizzy (Sophia Hirsch), Lydia (Sammy Ratcliffe) and Kitty are searching for a man to marry (or not) and the suitors are many. Fighting for the hearts of the ladies – among other things – are Mr Darcy (Scott Wright), Mr Bingley (Adam Forrester), Mr Collins (Sam Barnes), Colonel Fitzwilly (Kevin Quinn), and Mr Whack-em (Tracie Spooner). Staying true to the title of the play, most of the men quickly realise that their interests possibly lie in each other rather than the ladies around them. Drama arises for the three sisters (except for Kitty who is… a special case) who find themselves entangled in love triangles and intrigues. 

Being the panto it is, the play offers passionate singalongs and plausible chances to shout out the classic “he’s behind you”. From people dressed as shrubs to tacky Christmas lights and a makeshift stage-design, it delivers everything one might hope for when seeing a panto performance in a Pub Theatre.

However, Pride and Prejudice: The Gay Panto is trying too hard to do justice to the original story. Squeezed into two hours is a messy show that attempts to take into consideration every aspect of the original storyline. It is hard to follow – possibly even harder for a person who has never seen or read Pride and Prejudice – and it is not made easier by placing the author Jane Austen (Jane Bradley) herself into the show as a narrator.

I can only assume that the performance becomes easier to understand (or easier to enjoy) after two glasses of wine, however, as it stands, it is caught somewhere between trying to be an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and trying to be an entertaining pantomime.

Highlights of the show are the drag version of Jane Bennet, Ratcliffe’s songs as Lydia Bennet, an acting Stage Manager (Hal Arnold) and the exploration of how camp a panto can possibly become. On top of the list is also the moment when the Stage Manager comes out with a water blower and starts using it on the audience. Suddenly I feel invested in what was going on onstage – or rather worried whether I will be going home soaking wet.

Pride and Prejudice: The Gay Panto played at the White Bear Theatre until 4 January. For more information and tickets visit the White Bear Theatre website.