Despite having spent many years studying English literature and the works of Jane Austen, I have never been a huge Austen enthusiast. Together, Blood of the Young, Isobel McArthur and Paul Brotherston may have just changed my mind with their brilliant production of Pride and Prejudice *Sort Of at the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. The play tells the story of the famous Bennett family from the transgressive, behind-the-scenes perspective of the servants. The production initially opened in the Tron Theatre in Glasgow and has now come to Birmingham for a limited time only.
The whole performance was charged with comedy from Isobel McArthur’s outstanding portrayal of a disinterested, rude Mr Darcy, to the sisters heated squabbles and jocular, witty dialogue: “That broach is mine you thieving bitch!”. Mr Bennett was a silent, non-existent presence throughout “sitting in a chair reading a paper”. Fantastic. While drawing on the old and traditional, this production injected the new into a beloved story. The ball was made into a disco with flashing multi-coloured lights, the guests clutching vodka bottles and red cups, and performing repeated karaoke numbers. The musical aspect to the show may not be to everyone’s taste but I thought it was the perfect way to both liven up the story and emphasize the ridiculousness of the outdated ideas of romance.
That broach is mine you thieving bitch!
This modern production of Pride and Prejudice was hysterical and excellently executed. Working with a minimalist set, the all-female cast had the audience bent over double laughing, gasping for air. The highlight of the show was the scene where ‘Jane’ rides over to Netherfield House and gets caught in a storm. This was hilariously re-enacted using a model horse, with the cast running around banging coconuts together, waving birds around on sticks and shaking a fog machine. All the while, Christina Gordon was belting out a fabulous rendition of At Last by Etta James.
Six gorgeously talented actresses performed the whole production with flair and vivacity. Quick-change after quick-change, song after song, these women performed tirelessly, committing with great zeal to each and every character that they played. Mary, the “ugly” and “untalented sister”, played by Tori Burgess, finally gets her moment when she steals the karaoke machine at the end of the show and proves she has successfully solved her Rubix cube!
Personally, however, for me, it was Hannah Jarrett-Scott who stole the show with her exuberance, dynamism and strength on stage. Her role as Miss Bingley was genius. Her extravagance, deliberate awkwardness and snobbery had the crowd in fits of laughter, especially her attempts to outdo Elizabeth by dancing for Mr Darcy. Meghan Tyler, who played Elizabeth was also superb. Her “Fuck off!” rejection of Mr Darcy’s proposal got a round of applause. By the end, however, it is Elizabeth who gets down on one knee to “re-propose” to Mr Darcy.
McArthur, both as writer and actress, did an outstanding job of capturing a new feminist outlook while respecting and retaining the established timeliness of the period novel.
McArthur, both as writer and actress, did an outstanding job of capturing a new feminist outlook while respecting and retaining the established timeliness of the period novel. On choosing to script an all-female cast, McArthur said ‘Pride and Prejudice is about the plight of five daughters. Their future hangs in the balance as a direct result of their gender. Without marrying, they will be destitute. Such was the lot of any woman without a man to legally represent her in Regency England. So – at its very heart, this was always a woman’s story’.
The cast received an overwhelming and well-deserved standing ovation. A huge congratulations to the cast, creative and production teams on an exceptional opening night. My expectations were not exceeded; they were thrown out the window and completely outdone. Whether you’re an Austen fan or not, I insist you go and see this production; it is bound to make you laugh and leave you wanting more.
The last performance is on the 2nd of November. Get your tickets here: www.birmingham-rep.co.uk/whats-on/pride-and-prejudice-sort-of.html
Words by Daisy Andrews for Grapevine Birmingham