Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of)
Newcastle Theatre Royal
Until Saturday 28 January 2023
Every now and then a show starts at a smaller level and then becomes a phenomenon. After a regional tour or a season at Edinburgh Fringe, the show finds itself on the West End or touring our bigger theatres. Those in the know ensure that they get tickets. They want to be a part of it. This week one such phenomenon arrived at Newcastle's Theatre Royal for just a week. A clear sign of success is that, not only did it open on a Monday - but it had no tickets left in the Grand Circle. Once word gets out then the last few tickets will be hard to obtain. Snooze and you'll miss out on one of the cultural highlights of the year.But you're not a fan of Jane Austen? Neither am I. I have had no interest in reading the book or watching any screen adaptation. But with this show my interest with piqued - and I was not disappointed. This production features a great ensemble cast cleverly playing multiple roles with comic timing using a well devised script by Isobel McArthur. Yes, the story is based upon Jane Austen's popular novel but there are those anachronistic touches that jar away from the regency period with hilarious effect. For starters there is the impromptu musical interludes. Sometimes by accompanying a piano, other times by belting it out on a karaoke machine. The choice of songs is inspired. Lady In Red, Holding Out For A Hero and Pulp's Something Changed are inspired choices but Young Hearts Run Free was, in addition, cathartic for the audience.The show begins before the lights go down. The cast begin as servants cleaning the theatre, responding to the bells from the masters. They interact with the audience who are taking their seats. Once they make it to the stage the cast: Lucy Gray, Dannie Harris, Leah Jamieson, Emmy Stonelake and Megan Louise Wilson are keen to point out that servants are the heroes behind. After all they are the ones who deliver the message, our the wine or ensure that there is crisp fresh linen on the beds.The cast then start one of many costume changes. Dannie Harris, for example begins as Mrs Bennet, a mother of 3 daughters who hopes that they will get married - otherwise (as this is Regency Times) her husband's estate will not pass on to her and she will become destitute. We have witty Elizabeth (Emmy Stonelake), beautiful yet naïve Jane (Megan Louise Wilson) and serious Mary Bennet (Leah Jamieson).A ball is announced when the wealthy Charles Bingley (Lucy Gray) leases Netherfield Park and it is rumoured that his rich friend Fitzwilliam Darcy (Dannie Harris again) will be present. The mother tries to get her daughters coupled off regardless of their own wishes and thus the fun begins.This show relies less of the set and more on the cast and dialogue. The simplicity in the set up adds to the level of humour. The fourth wall occasionally comes crashing down - with audience members being asked if they came by carriage or still enjoy fishing. But as simple as it seems, just as the cast point out that there are servants underpinning every historical romance novel, there must be a team of hardworking crew behind the stage making this show tick over seamlessly.
This is a comedy. I laughed and laughed regularly. The Austen styled dialogue is occasionally peppered with the modern vernacular - and some of the rude curse words may raise an eyebrow if you were expecting a more traditional show. Directors Isobel McCarthy and Simon Harvey have given the show pace and vitality.
For a show that was appearing at producing theatres such as Northern Stage as Covid started to wreck plans, this show has been successfully scaled up.
I really enjoyed it. I got the impression that the audience did too.
Review: Stephen Oliver
Photos: Matt Crockett
Photos: Matt Crockett
Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of) plays at Newcastle Theatre Royal from Monday 23 – Saturday 28 January 2023. Tickets can be purchased at www.theatreroyal.co.uk or by calling 0191 232 7010.