Leeds Playhouse – until 29 February 2020
Reviewed by Sally Richmond
A spectacular all-female-cast is providing the city of Leeds with an empowering, extremely entertaining version of Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) this week. The wonderful Leeds Playhouse, which won ‘Theatre Building of the Year 2020’ at the recent Stage Awards, is currently showing this unique version (written by Isobel McArthur and directed by Paul Brotherston) of the aforenamed Jane Austen classic. Dare I say it – yes I dare – I much prefer this stage adaptation to the original novel! Gasp, shock-horror … but I actually think Austen wouldn’t mind me saying that and would most certainly approve of this hilarious mixed period mash up of her classic story. Despite being so far removed from the image one associates with her work (romantic love that is enveloped in etiquette and stuffy social protocol), Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) complements her work, and maintains the ethos of what she did so well- which was to observe and give sharp and accurate social commentary.
Smartly written and directed, we witness Jane’s flowery prose of courtesy and politeness, laced with acidic quips that transform into language that would make any bonnet-headed lady faint away in shock and disbelief! Saucy and salacious lines are fired from every direction!
Karaoke and Austin in the same sentence may seem incomprehensible, and a juxtaposition gone too far but somehow it all works! A medley of popular hit numbers were superbly well placed, and fitted each moment they accompanied perfectly. “You’re so vain” being sung to Mr Darcy was simply a moment of comic genius to behold; if only to see his uncomfortable response and give the girls chance to sing along and holler “well said Liz!”. The play translated exceptionally well into modern day life and small details, such as Elizabeth munching Frosties straight from the box as she mulled over the events from the night before with her sister, made it so relatable and relevant to today’s audience.
The mention of karaoke might make it hard to believe that the original story is adhered to, but the duel themes of confused amour and the great social class divide are kept intact, and developed with a modern slant. Banter and wise cracks are abundant throughout and bounce back and forth between the eras of Austen’s world and modern times (immigration and the inequality of women rear their ugly heads but are justly dealt with and playfully put in their place!).
Kudos of the highest kind must be given to the phenomenally brilliant and outstanding cast: Tori Burgess, Christina Gordon, Hannah Jarrett-Scott, Isobel McArthur, Meghan Tyler and Felixe Forde. They beamed and dazzled during every single second they were on stage; smoothly and seamlessly switching roles of the multitude of characters they each played. And, all of these characters were portrayed with clever comedic physicality. Hoot -filled one liners and popular verses blasted out with great gusto and vigour (accompanied by a squeeze box and trumpet) filled the Playhouse with joyous abandon.
Whether you’re an Austen fan or not, I would highly recommend that you go and see this play. Not only will you laugh, sing-along and feel uplifted but more importantly you’ll feel the incredible power of these fabulous women as characters and actors.