Theatre Review: Pride and Prejudice* (*Sort Of) at The Leeds Playhouse

A CAST of six females all clad in white smocked dresses and black boots sing Elvis Costello’s “Every Day I Write the Book”, opening Blood of the Young theatre company’s new touring show. Isobel McArthur reimagines Austen’s classic in a unique, playful and highly energetic adaptation infused with contemporary musical numbers.

McArthur’s rewrite uses music to create humour, modernising Austen’s balls to include a karaoke machine as the cast sing The Shirelles “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?” complete with dress swishing and bottle swigging. Elizabeth Bennet (Meghan Tyler) sings Carly Simon’s “You’re So Vain” on first meeting Darcy (Isobel McArthur); there’s a hilarious performance of Lady Catherine de Burgh’s (Christina Gordan) nephew’s song “Lady in Red” and a particularly comical performance of Pulp’s “Something Changed”. The versatile cast accompany solos on instruments, including guitar, accordion, keyboards and piano.

Complementing well-placed song, McArthur’s script utilises the uncouth and unexpected to create additional laughs. In the comfort of their parlour Austen’s ladies of refined society speak frankly to one-another with Jane observing “He’s obviously just using you to get into mum’s pants” and Mrs Bennet fretting “Who would touch any of you with a sh**ty stick now?” Middle daughter, Mary’s (Tori Burgess) singing voice is the brunt of all jokes and there’s an amusing exchange of narrated letters between Jane and Lizzie. There are plenty of clever in-jokes, including allusions to Colin Firth’s iconic lake dip as Darcy. Perfectly timed comedic reactions elevate the humour as cast run amok among the audience.

Acting as narrator, Hannah Jarrett-Scott gives historical contextual information while acting as, Tillie, a servant in the Bennet house. She’s excellent switching between a Scottish and British accent in her numerous character parts and is undoubtedly the strongest performer of an exceptionally talented cast who fluidly move between the genders.

Director Paul Brotherston adds to the show’s light-hearted farcical mood by using props for further chuckles with Jane riding a life size static horse model while one of her sisters skirts her with coconut shells and another squirts water from above to create a storm. One of the nicest touches is relegating the Bennet family’s patriarch; he’s represented as nothing more than a chair facing away from the audience with an open newspaper propped.

Blood of the Young gain a well-deserved standing-ovation, having fittingly honoured the themes of class divide and love in Austen’s well-loved tale while injecting the story with a whole new lease of life.

Pride and Prejudice* (*Sort Of) was in The Courtyard Theatre 25-29 February before continuing its UK tour:

by Leo Owen