REVIEW: Pride & Prejudice* (*Sort of), Criterion Theatre

This boisterous and hilarious take on Pride and Prejudice while offering a contemporary view of the story retains its heart.

Throw in a touch of swearing, a few classic karaoke songs while bringing Jane Austen’s classic love story to the stage and you end up with a smart and sassy version of Pride and Prejudice that still manages to capture the spirit of the story underneath the modernised humour.

Written by Isobel McArthur, this music infused play changes the perspective of the story nicely by having the servants taking centre stage to narrate the story of Elizabeth and Mr Darcy – highlighting the fact that actually those working in these grand homes actually saw a lot of what was going on – and had strong opinions on it as evidenced here. What is so smart about this play is the way in which it moves effortlessly from narration to highlighting particular important scenes from the book (although some settings for important moments have been adjusted for ease) – while having a lot of fun in the process.

But equally, the way in which the songs are used to enhance certain emotions and points of the story – the way in which Elizabeth sings ‘You’re So Vain’ at Mr Darcy at their first meeting or the way Chris de Burgh’s ‘Lady in Red is performed by Elizabeth to Lady Catherine are real treats for example. Yes it is all very much over the top – but it magnificently tears up the rule book on how to bring Jane Austen’s stories to life for a new audience.

Co-directed by Isobel McArthur and Simon Harvey, this is a very sharply paced and highly energised production with barely time time to breathe as the cast of five bring the variety of characters to life. Playing out on Ana Ines Jabares-Pita’s gorgeously understated but elegant set design – you really get the sense of two world’s colliding: Jane Austen’s regency world and how contemporary readers can see the story today.

Perhaps there times when it feels as though certain aspects of the story don’t come through strongly enough and the relationships between the two central couples could have been stronger, despite the strength of the performances from the cast. It feels as though the ending was a little bit rushed through.

This being said, I did love many of the aspects of humour in the script. The little details such as portraying Mr Bennet as an armchair and newspaper only or the way in which Mrs Bennet tells Elizabeth off for unlady like language before swearing herself are just a couple of examples of just how fun this take on the story really is, with plenty to offer fans of Pride and Prejudice or those who haven’t read the book or seen one of the many adaptations.

It is clear that the cast themselves are having a real ball and to watch them swap characters with such style, confidence and ease is impressive to watch. In particular, I adored Hannah Jarrett-Scott’s Caroline Bingley who is suitably disdainful in a flamboyant way, Isobel McArthur’s haughty Mr Darcy and Annabel Baldwin’s spirited Elizabeth are real treats to watch – but the whole cast have plenty of moments to shine throughout.

Over the top, silly but a whole lot of fun, Pride & Prejudice* (*Sort of) is exactly a barrel of laughs we all need at the moment. I would love to see Isobel McArthur take on another Jane Austen novel and bring it to the stage in as a refreshing way as this was.

By Emma Clarendon

Pride & Prejudice* (*Sort of) continues to play at the Criterion Theatre until the 6th February. To book tickets click here or visit: Love Theatre.comTheatre Tickets and London Theatre Direct .

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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