Pride and Prejudice* (*Sort Of) review: There’s bite to this fluffy cucumber sandwich of a show

Isobel McArthur’s raucous musical take on Jane Austen’s novel drags the author’s subtext kicking and screaming into the daylight

Alice Saville
Thursday 04 November 2021 06:32
<p>Five go mad in Pemberley: (from left) Christina Gordon, Tori Burgess, Isobel McArthur, Hannah Jarrett-Scott and Meghan Tyler </p>

Five go mad in Pemberley: (from left) Christina Gordon, Tori Burgess, Isobel McArthur, Hannah Jarrett-Scott and Meghan Tyler

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Behind every period drama there are servants: fetching afternoon tea, delivering letters, and scrubbing troublesome stains out of the bedsheets. Pride and Prejudice* (*Sort Of), Isobel McArthur’s raucous take on Jane Austen’s novel, is narrated and performed by these put-upon skivvies, who stuff the story with innuendo and point out the brutal economic realities that lurk beneath its surface.

You know the drill: smart Lizzie, beautiful Jane, buff Mr Bingley, and sarky Darcy meet at a succession of balls, their inevitable happy endings delayed by an excess of pride and prejudice. That’s all here. But there’s some extra bite to this fluffy cucumber sandwich of a show. McArthur’s adaptation isn’t the first to draw attention to the fact that Mrs Bennett’s desperation to marry off her daughters comes from the fear of destitution. But she does explicitly get her characters to spell out the grim realities: this is an era where spinsters can’t inherit (as they wisecrack, why would they need money when they’ve got cats to keep them warm?) and women are treated as men’s property. It’s hardly very romantic.

So McArthur, together with director Simon Harvey, punctures this story’s swoonier, prettier trappings with a well-aimed feather duster. Instead of dancing, these characters sing hilariously well-chosen karaoke songs at pivotal moments (Meghan Tyler’s rendition of “Lady in Red”, sung to a preening Lady Catherine, is a particular highlight). Swear words pepper the air as “ladylike behaviour” becomes an ever more impossible aspiration. And the refreshment table at Meryton Ball is piled high with Irn Bru and Tunnock’s wafers, instead of cucumber sandwiches – a nod to this show’s origins as a 2018 hit at Glasgow’s Tron Theatre.

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