Review: Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of). Cambridge Arts Theatre (touring)

Pride & Prejudice (Sort Of)

Cambridge Arts Theatre

14th November 2022

Proving that you can’t keep a good show down, ‘Pride & Prejudice* (*Sort Of)’ is back on our stages once again.  After a well-received Glasgow tryout in 2018, the affectionate spoof of Jane Austen’s 1813 novel embarked on a UK tour in 2019, but was sadly curtailed by the Covid pandemic.  A brief West End run followed, but again it struggled while the theatre world tried to get back on its feet.  Its determination was however rewarded at this year’s Olivier Awards, where it deservedly scooped Best Comedy Play for its writer Isobel McArthur. 

McArthur also stars in the piece, alongside Tori Burgess, Christina Gordon, Hannah Jarrett-Scott and Leah Jamieson, who appear as five servants stuck in the doldrums of their lives, and so decide to tell their version of Austen’s classic story.  The five women take on multiple roles to bring the tale to life, played faithfully to Austen’s text but with a modern twist, along with snippets of karaoke-style musical interludes to fit in with what’s going on.  With fourth-wall-breaking, sassy banter, strong language and a finely-tuned sense of farce, it’s about as far from a stereotypical Austen adaptation as you can get, and excels because of it.

Directed by Simon Harvey and McArthur, ‘Pride & Prejudice* (*Sort Of)’ works because there’s a clear affection for Austen’s novel at its heart, and by modernising its characters it’s able to mine them for comedy value without ever feeling malicious or mean-spirited.  The play definitely has its tongue firmly in its cheek, and often feels like a wonderfully-likeable hybrid of ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ and ‘Six’, taking the physical comedy stylings and modern tone of those shows and blending them perfectly with Austen’s story to give it its own individuality.  McArthur and Harvey ensure that audiences with no prior knowledge of the novel are still able to follow its story and understand its jokes, while also ensuring there are sufficient subtle nods for the hardcore fans too.  The play remains consistently engaging throughout, each act feeling perhaps 5-10 minutes too long but it’s a minor quibble when the writing and performances are so strong.  Slick scene transitions and some lightning-quick costume changes help to keep the play feeling lively, and although it’s definitely not a musical, the song selections are well-chosen and fit cleverly with the story and characters’ motivations, along with being well-performed by the cast. 

McArthur thoroughly deserved that Olivier Award, and has written a truly funny and original piece of theatre.  The play is laced with Northern charm, some brilliant anachronisms, and seemingly endless jokes, while also delivering moments of warmth and heart. McArthur gets the balance just right, and her writing is a joy to listen to.  It feels like something Victoria Wood might’ve written, sometimes reminiscent of the wonderful silliness of ‘Acorn Antiques’, and McArthur even has a Julie Walters quality to her brilliant performance as the shrieking, exasperated Mrs Bennet.  McArthur also plays Mr Darcy (again, brilliantly), while also playing the accordion, so it seems her talents are apparently endless.  She has assembled a truly excellent cast around her, all of whom shine in their various roles.  Singling any of them out would do the others an injustice, as they all fit their characters like a glove, and bounce off each other’s timing with ease.  You can feel their chemistry as a group coming off the stage in waves, and they look like they’re having a ball up there, which the audience feel from the beginning.

Seeing ‘Pride & Prejudice* (*Sort Of)’ getting another run is fantastic, and audiences shouldn’t miss the chance to make the most of it.  Funny, charming, refreshingly original and brilliantly written, it’s a joyous night of laughs from a wonderful group of strong female talent.  ‘Pride & Prejudice (Sort Of)’ is “Austen-tatiously” good, in the most impressive way. 

‘Pride & Prejudice* (*Sort Of)’ runs at the Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday 19th November before continuing its UK tour.

Performance runtime 2 hours 30 minutes including interval.

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