Pride and Prejudice * (*sort of) at The Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh (Thursday 23rd January to Saturday 15th February) was my first theatrical review of 2020, and one which, to be honest, I had more than a few reservations about going to see. The main reason for this is that although I accept the huge appeal of Jane Austen’s works I am not a big Jane Austen fan as I find that works like this one can often be like entering into a claustrophobic, and at time almost fantasy parallel world of morals and values. Having said that though, underneath the romantic fantasy of this work, there is the real voice of a woman fighting for women’s individual rights and identities whilst at the same time highlighting the huge inequalities of a marriage and inheritance legal system that stripped women of their rightful wealth and property.
Many people now probably know the works of Jane Austen through period films and television dramas, and to be honest, it is a long time since I have read the original novel of “Pride and Prejudice”, so I was at least curious about how this production was going to work on stage. For me, you only have one option with Jane Austen’s work, and that is to stick firmly to the original story as attempts to update it, play with it, parody it, or whatever, usually end in disaster. Somehow though, this production, with a very sharp script by Isobel McArthur (with a little help from Jane Austen) and equally sharp direction from Paul Brotherston has managed to find another route into the world of “Pride and Prejudice” by giving it a contemporary parallel world to live in while still setting it in period and costume. The result, which on paper should not work, is actually one of the most creative, original, and imaginative works of theatre that I have seen on stage for many years.
A large part of the success of this production has to go to the very talented cast of Tori Burgess, Felixe Forde, Christina Gordon, Hannah Jarrett-Scott, Isobel McArthur and Meghan Tyler. All of our cast are playing at one time or another more than one role here but, by default, and the need to be in one character for the longest amount of time, Meghan Tyler as the love interest of Mr Darcy, Elizabeth Bennett, gets the opportunity to give us a wonderfully sharp and defined performance of a young, independent minded young woman rebelling against the society in which she finds herself. Meghan Tyler is supported here by fine performances from everyone else on stage, and together the result is a perfect combination of that always difficult to do light comedy performance and timing.
It is obvious from watching everyone in this cast perform that they are all having a lot of fun with this script, and there is never a moment where the pace of the story slows down, and there are just so many perfect little moments here. This is an irreverent look at the world of Jane Austen, and Isobel McArthur has somehow managed to make the Bennett family real and of relevance to a modern audience. Yes, there is the odd moment of strong language here too, but it is sparingly used and in context with the story, and never strays into what would have been a very easy trap of crudity for the sake of it.
There is also music here, and if you can manage to make some of my favourite songs like “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”, “Young Hearts Run Free”, “Lonely This Christmas” and “You’re So Vain” fit perfectly into a Jane Austen story, then you have my attention.
Pride and Prejudice * (*sort of) is just a perfect little slice of theatre – one where you can forget about any problems that you might have for a few hours and just enter into the chaotic world of Jane, Elizabeth and The Bennett Family.
Review by Tom King