Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of ) Review - UK Tour , Exeter Northcott
When it comes to stage productions, taking a classic story and giving it a twist is hardly something new, from ‘Unexpected Twist’ and ‘Bleak Expectations’, to Say It Again Sorry’s fringe hit ‘The Importance of being… Earnest’ to name but a few. And now here we are with the Olivier Award winning ‘Pride & Prejudice* (*Sort of), a show that takes the classic Jane Austen story, throws it into the mixing pot and tops it up with dashes of Six, lashes of Jukebox musical fun and even a slight sprinkling of Mischief.
Where in Austen’s famous novels, we know the servants of the grand houses are there, but we never really meet them, the Bennett Family servants drive the story here, donning costumes to tell the story of Pride and Prejudice themselves, each playing multiple parts between the five of them. They put themselves in the story, the quiet heroes that ensure that the happy ending always happens in the end. We get to know them, especially in the pre-show as the maids mingle directly with the audience in a style often associated with ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’.
Music is used throughout, but not in the classical way that you may imagine for a production of ‘Pride & Prejudice’, but then again, the clue is in the title, this is ‘sort of’. Karaoke classics such as ‘Young Hearts Run Free’, ‘Holding Out For A Hero’ and ‘You’re So Vain’ are so perfectly slotted in that you’ll somehow become convinced that they were always there, fitting into moments that will not only make you laugh but also cleverly help to move the story along. The cast also play multiple instruments throughout, from saxophone and guitar to maracas, much to the delight of the audience.
Lucy Gray, Dannie Harris, Leah Jamieson, and Megan Louise Wilson switch characters at the drop of a hat throughout, bringing many characters of the story to life in a way that allows the audience to follow along easily and quickly with no confusion. Ana Inés Jabares-Pita’s set, consisting of a large Georgian staircase and high walkway along with a series of cupboards, allows for costume changes to happen slickly and within moments, with Harris’ switches between the high drama of Mrs Bennett and the stoic somewhat egotistical Mr Darcy happening at the blink of an eye.
Emmy Stonelake’s maid takes on the role of Elizabeth Bennett, swamped with the pressure to marry in order to save the family name and determined to save the happiness of her siblings, especially the kind-hearted Jane (Megan Louise Wilson). Displaying a natural flair for comedy and some incredibly impressive vocals, Stonelake has the audience hanging on her every word and laughing throughout.
Dannie Harris commands the stage, both as Mrs Bennett and Mr Darcy, two characters who couldn’t be more different. Quite often bordering on hysterical, her portrayal of Mrs Bennett is clearly an audience favourite, earning laughter throughout. Whereas her Mr Darcy is much more serious, holding the central story takeover. The relationship between Harris’ Darcy and Stonelake’s Elizabeth is convincing and intriguing from start to end, believable and littered with twists and turns.
Lucy Gray delights as the Bingley’s, both brother and sister, highlighting the characters of high society, by they willing to mingle with other classes or desperate to stay away from them. Her maid character also plays a crucial role, always there at pivotal moments of the story. Leah Jamieson’s multiple roles are hilarious, from the often forgotten younger sisters of the Bennett family to the slow talking Mr Collins, with one line or the odd look to the audience enough to raise laughter. Megan Louise Wilson’s Jane lies at the heart of the story, like Elizabeth, wanting to marry to save her family but also for love, and as an audience member you find yourself willing her on to succeed.
‘Pride & Prejudice* (*Sort of)’ takes the classic story and sends it kicking and screaming into a more modern context. Champagne flutes are replaced instead with red plastic cups and cans of Irn Bru, fancy finger food replaced with Pringles and Wagon Wheels, and mic in hand karaoke is expected at every town ball. Themes such as sexism, class and politics are touched upon throughout and littered with references that can still apply today, all together creating a girl power story that has something for everyone.
Laughter is at the heart of the piece, with it being clear that the five piece cast are enjoying every moment of it. The friendship of the cast becomes the friendship of the five maids, always forced into the background and delighting in the chance to tell the story themselves, even if they have to clean up the mess afterwards. The tight knit group bounce through the story with an undeniable energy and overall sense of fun and silliness, making the audience laugh out loud without losing the classic Austen story. It’s all still there, just perfectly mixed together with well known songs, modern references, some naughty language that may have caught the audience off guard but thrilled them nonetheless, some breaking of the fourth wall and just a wonderfully good time.