Interview With…Isobel McArthur

We chatted to Isobel about the West End transfer of Pride & Prejudice* (*Sort Of) at the Criterion Theatre.

Hi Isobel , could you explain what we can expect from Pride & Prejudice (sort of)? Pride & Prejudice* (sort of) is an affectionate, faithful re-telling of Austen’s iconic novel – only, told by the servants, with karaoke. It features an all-female ensemble of five who not only play every character, but who are also the live band and much of the stage management – performing every scene and costume change as well as narrating the story and leading the audience through all the action.

How does it feel to bring the show to the West End? Not all that many shows from theatres in Glasgow’s east end make it to London’s West End. We are extremely proud to present the original Scottish cast here on the Criterion stage and in doing so share with a London audience what are, in essence, many of the joys of Glasgow Music hall – excellent comic players, personality-lead performances, live instrumentation, cracking song choices, and an inclusive, joyful, celebratory atmosphere which aims to welcome audiences from any background into the auditorium to enjoy a great night out.

How did the idea for the show come about? Andy Arnold, the Artistic Director of Glasgow’s Tron Theatre was interested in a re-imagined literary classic for his Summer mainstage slot in 2018 – but he wasn’t sure what it should be. It was at that point that I read Pride & Prejudice for the first time. I was immediately struck by how funny it was – and quite how at odds that comic tone was with every po-faced, bonneted screen adaptation I’d half-seen of it. I was determined to bring Austen’s wit and humour to Glasgow’s theatre-going audiences and share with them this discovery that there’s nothing starchy about Austen – in fact, she’s a riot.

What do you think that it is about Pride and Prejudice that continues to resonate with people? Many things – inequality, suffering, injustice – but in the broadest possible terms: human imperfection. Austen is so incisive as a writer when it comes to character and folly. In all of her novels, modern readers identify personalities they see around them in their everyday lives. She is a master of identifying all the most absurd things about being human. Name any Austen character and you will quickly see their parallels in numerous successful contemporary sitcoms and films. She knew that people were inherently funny and she knew how to shine a light on the recognisable in all human experience.

What have you enjoyed the most about watching the show develop to where it is now? At this stage of our creative journey, many new things are possible. I could easily say – the huge and beautiful set made of books designed by Ana Inés Jabares-Pita which we have the honour of performing on each evening. I could say getting to refine the script and collaborate directorially with the excellent Simon Harvey for the first time. Certainly meeting the Producer of this work, David Pugh, has been a life-changing experience and demands a mention. However – I think seeing my colleagues and friends in the ensemble thrive and make audiences laugh is the greatest pleasure I take in my work. When their hard graft – and graft they have to get here – pays off each evening, I struggle not to beam. Which can be an issue as I’m often playing the cantankerous Mr. Darcy.

How easy did you find it to incorporate music into the story? Truthfully, incorporating music into the story was a joy. From a selfish point of view it provided an opportunity for me to inflict some of my own musical tastes onto audiences en masse – but the process of weaving music through took place incredibly naturally. I hypothesise that this is the case because when Austen writes about love, she identifies many of the essential truths that great songwriters do too. We all want to understand love – and great art will always continue to be made about it. It is simultaneously as complex and mysterious to us as any force in the universe. I think it’s in Austen’s Mansfield Park that she writes ‘There are as many forms of love as there are moments in time.’ It’s just too rich a seam for artists to ever tire of exploiting it.

By Emma Clarendon

Pride & Prejudice* (*Sort Of) continues to play at the Criterion Theatre. To book tickets visit: Love Theatre.comTheatre Tickets and London Theatre Direct .

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