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Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of)

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry


So, five women can change the world, who knew? They definitely change the world of Jane Austen into a hilarious, inventive, original romp. There are five sisters in the Bennet family so you might assume that these five women will be portraying the sisters – oh no… these are the downstairs maids who know far more about the inner workings of the households in Jane Austen’s most famous and fabulous Pride and Prejudice.

But these five women also portray everyone in the book including the Bennet sisters – angelic Jane (Megan Louise Wilson), sharp-tongued and very Welsh Elizabeth (Emmy Stonelake), studious Mary (Leah Jamieson), flighty Lydia (also Leah Jamieson) and cockney Mrs Bennet (Dannie Harris who also plays Darcy).

Other parts are played by Lucy Gray including a lovely Charlotte Lucas clearly in love with Lizzie but prepared to marry the gloriously dull clergyman cousin Mr Collins (Leah Jamieson). I loved Mr Bennet – he’s just a chair, paper and pipe.

You’ll know the story, and this is a really faithful rendition. Mrs Bennet must see her girls married before Mr Bennet dies, so new arrivals in the district must be targeted. Five thousand a year Bingley meets Jane and is entranced, Lizzie meets ten thousand a year Darcy and isn’t… but change is afoot and, thrown together in various households and crises, Darcy makes a concerted effort to win her round. His marvellously snobby proposal is rejected, as is the magnificently ill-judged and pompous Collins one, but Lady Catherine De Bourgh (Megan Louise Wilson) magnificent in a hat the size of Kew Gardens inadvertently helps him.

There's so much to like here, I started writing down the bits that made me laugh out loud but pretty soon ran out of paper. I loved the anachronisms – Jane takes a Viennetta in a Tesco bag to the Netherfield ball for dessert. The songs are brilliantly chosen and presented. Wicked Wickham (also Megan Louise Wilson) has ‘Smooth Operator’ as his leitmotif. Lizzie sings a wonderfully raucous ‘You’re so vain’ to Darcy that brought the house down. Mrs Bennet bars Mary from singing at any of the local balls but finally she takes her chance and it’s a wonderful finale – ‘Young Hearts’. Tip top – I loved every minute. Directed by Isobel McArthur, Simon Harvey Pride and Prejudice will be running to 11-02-23 (sort of). 

Jane Howard


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