pride cast

Hannah Jarrett-Scott, (left), Felixe Forde, Meghan Tyler, Tori Burgess, Christina Gordon and writer Isobel McArthur. Picture: Mihaela Bodlovic

Price and Prejudice* (*sort of)

Birmingham Rep


It is a truth that is not quite universally acknowledged, indeed it is more narrowly acknowledged, that Jane Austen swore like a trooper, often with a Yorkshire accent, wrote sparkling, witty comedy, which is actually true, and was a pioneer of 1980’s pop music, which isn’t quite as true.

None of this is mentioned in the Jane Austen centre in Bath, perhaps fearing it might attract less desirable elements to the associated gift shop and tea rooms, so we are grateful for Birmingham Rep for hosting and indeed co-producing this early/later/who knows draft of Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of).

Scotland’s Blood of the Young’s production is the most glorious spoof of English literature’s classic written with a laugh a minute by Isobel McArthur – with modest help from Miss Austen. McArthur achieves a clever balance between hilarious comedy and Austen’s story, weaving in quotes from the book and sticking faithfully to storyline of  what is one of the the world’s great novels, yet lacing the tale with slapstick, one liners, physical and visual comedy and unbridled daftness from the cast of six playing 21 parts.

That doesn’t include Mr Bennett, of course, who appears to be a very slow reader among other failings; he couldn’t even turn up for the curtain call at the end, the miserable old codger.  

By the way, I know the Bennet family name has one t in the novel, but it’s two in the programme cast list - so we go with that!

The play opens with a group of servants, people who Austen largely ignored . . . lower classes you see . . . but they saw it all, and, I mean all, and are ready to spill the beans.

Thus, we meet the Bennett family with the matriarch played by Isobel McArthur herself as the hypochondriac mother who can even moan about having nothing to moan about. She is desperate to get her five daughters married to wealthy men to avoid ending up penniless and destitute when Mr Bennett pegs it, although how anyone will notice he has shuffled off his mortal coil is a challenge to say the least, no matter, you see, the real problem is that women then, 1793 remember, were not allowed to inherit. No man, no money - which sounds a bit like a reggae song.

So, security comes from wedlock, lock being the operative term with such fripperies as love, happiness, even suitability, not being part of the equation.


The Bennett clan: Felixe Forde as Kitty (left), Christina Gordon as Jane, Isobel McArthur as Mrs Bennett, Meghan Tyler as Elizabeth and Tori Burgess as Mary

First up on this Georgian version of Blind Date we have Mr Charles Bingley, wealthy northern landowner who has rented nearby Netherfield Park and is the star turn at the Meryton Town Ball. He is played by Hannah Jarrett-Scott, who also bears a striking resemblance to Mr Bingley’s haughty snobbish sister Caroline as well as her own sister Elizabeth’s closest friend Charlotte – oh and she also plays the trumpet . . . something Austen forgot to mention. The clue here is you never see any two of these characters on stage at the same time . . . It is a wonderful performance and her attempts as Caroline to woo Darcy at the expense of Elizabeth are a comic gem.

Bingley is being targeted, with Mrs Bennett at the controls, by Jane, not a plain Jane in this case, but the local stunner who is in danger of becoming an old maid at the ripe old age of 22.

Jane, demure, and a harpist incidentally, is played by Christina Gordon, who also pops up as supersnob Lady Catherine, who looks down on everyone with disdain through one of the earliest pairs of sunglasses, looking a bit like a Giles version of a Mafia granny.

We all know Jane and Bingley will become an item, eventually, live happily ever after and all that, so we can forget them, leave them to ride off into the sunset and concentrate on the rest.

Elizabeth on the other hand has this on off on off . . . relationship with Mr Darcy, who looks remarkably like Isobel McArthur again, the difference being that where Mrs Bennett cannot shut up Mr Darcy doesn’t seem to do words that much . . . or smile or indeed show any sort of expression, so much so you start to wonder if it could be an early Botox job gone wrong.

Elizabeth is played beautifully by Meghan Tyler, She is feisty, independent and, something else Austen omitted to mention, she is also apparently Irish.

Filixe Forde gets the job of being all the other blokes in the play popping up as the obsequious and remarkably boring Rev Collins, an early version of Mogadon, as well as the rogue, womanising, drinking, gambling soldier George Wickham, the novel’s baddie, she also has a day job as second youngest Bennett daughter, Kitty.

And that leaves us with Tori Burgess, who, as the actors have run out, has to play two Bennett sisters starting in descending age order with Mary, the middle sister and the plainest, clever, well read, intelligent, but as Hannah Jarrett-Scott as servant Tillie tells us at the start, not someone you would go for a pint with. She is deterred from singing as she is “too good”, a ploy that lasts until the final moments when she grabs a mic on a deserted stage and launches into 18th century disco.


Isobel McArthur as the outwardly taciturn Darcy  

Then she is Lydia, the youngest, who apparently is from Yorkshire, has a hint of bull in a china shop about her and sees tact as something you use in upholstery. She also has an imaginative and expressive phraseology with somewhat industrial overtones. Which is posh for saying she can’t half swear in what is a remarkably endearing performance.

The swearing by the characters, incidentally, is never thrown in gratuitously, to shock or show how hip and with it the show is, it is cleverly worked, used purely for laughs and with delightful comic effect. We have a wonderfully rich, expressive language so why not use it?

There are some wonderful touches as the cast magically appear as a sort of palm court orchestra with guitars, harps, maracas . . . you name it . . . to enhance? dramatic moments, or a pop song is thrown in here and there, such as You're so vain, or Lady in Red. They even introduce a full size horse, while the instant family portrait of Darcy is priceless.

It is very clever, very funny and despite being a send up it is an affectionate send up, so much so that the on off romance between Elizabeth and Darcy, the heart of the novel, becomes the heart of the play and despite it being a comedy, an all-female cast, and a night of constant laughs, the relationship slowly rises above the laughs and the audience are all rooting for them at the end, you actually care about the characters and what happens to them, which is a remarkable feat of both writing and acting.

The acting throughout is superb with brilliant timing, something you cannot learn – knowing just how long to hold a pause or a look is an art in itself. There are some lovely comic touches, the paper in the toilet scene for example – Austen probably missed that out for space reasons – while costume changes come at lightning speed.

The set from Anna Inés Jabares-Pita is imaginative, looking 18th century and incorporating a staircase and balcony to give height and another dimension and areas to change with roll on roll off props. She also designed the sets for A thousand splendid suns and The quiet house at Birmingham Rep.

There is some interesting lighting from Simon Hayes, breaking the stage with spots or a sort of Mastermind square of light around a chair, with musical supervision and sound design from Michael John McCarthy and choreography from Emily Jane Boyle which all add to a very funny and inventive production.

If you love and know Austen then you will love this affectionate send up, and if you hate Austen, perhaps, along with Shakespeare, a legacy of dull schooldays, you will still love it – who doesn’t enjoy a good laugh. Directed by Paul Brotherson it is imaginative, clever, witty, but above all it is bloody good fun. Laughs a plenty to 02-11-19.

Roger Clarke


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