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Pride & Prejudice (Sort of)

Belgrade Theatre, 7 to 11 February 2023. Review by Ashley Hayward.

Written by Isobel MacArthur this award winning, joyous comedy is a highly imaginative adaptation of Jane Austen’s classic novel.

I actually studied Pride and Prejudice as part of my ‘O’ level (GCSE in old money) English Literature and like many teenagers I found it rather dull. If I’d have had the privilege of watching this production at the time, I’m sure I would have viewed it in a completely different light and probably have improved on my rather unimpressive grade.

The humorously creative and inventive script kept everyone entertained from the opening scene when we enjoy the servants’ company at the Bennett’s family home to the finale when the audience all rose as one to give a standing ovation.

The most remarkable aspect of the production is that there are only five female performers! The multi-talented quintet play all the characters, both male and female, with one exception: the role of Mr Bennett is taken by an armchair!

There are immensely energetic and exhilarating performances from the whole cast who are not only accomplished actors and singers but also manage to change the scenery, help each other get changed, move the props and furniture as well as playing a variety of musical instruments.

The show is hilariously irreverent and raucous with plenty of innuendos all delivered with perfect timing and lapped up by the audience.

The performance is enriched by some very appropriate contemporary songs including (two of my favourite) works by Carole King and Carly Simon. The singing is exceptionally tuneful and the whole production is neatly choreographed.

The set includes an impressive winding staircase which is put to good use and there are very slick changes in scenery and some highly amusing props.

I sometimes have concerns when great works of literature are ‘sent up’ but this is certainly not the case with this production and I’m sure even highly devoted Austenians would not be offended by the script. The book’s central themes of social mobility, love, class, self-awareness, greed and loveless marriages are still there and are made accessible to all.

The show may be somewhat irreverent but it is respectful and I’m convinced that if we were able to borrow the Tardis and bring the great author from the early 19th century to watch the performance, she would certainly approve!

To me the only disappointing aspect was that there were some empty seats in the house. The servants erected a sign at the end which said ‘If you like it, tell someone’. I have tried to do that and hope the good people of Coventry and Warwickshire turn out in numbers for subsequent performances.

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