Theatre Review: Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of)

Words: Beverley Makin
Wednesday 29 March 2023
reading time: min, words

It’s the 1800s. It’s party time. Let the ruthless matchmaking begin.

It can’t be denied that the Jane Austen classic Pride and Prejudice has been done to death over the years. In most screen iterations what is actually quite a funny book is beautifully made but often a little dull, so the title Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) filled me with hope. Even more hope when the two grinning couples on either side confessed they had seen it before and assured me it was hilarious.


A simple but impressive set was waiting as a young lady in a white underdress and a pair of marigolds walked through the audience to the stage, cleaning as she went. She was soon joined by four other similarly dressed ladies hard at work. Though none were introduced by name they explained they were servants at Longbourn and that they saw and heard everything that went on in that grand house - including having seen every resident naked!

They then explained the importance of good staff in any love story. A little gossip here, an overheard whisper there, the delivery of a note or keeping someone waiting at the door just long enough. Their role in the lives of their masters and mistresses unnoticed but pivotal. And here began their retelling of the comedy of manners they witnessed as Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of).


Five talented and energetic ladies play the more than a dozen roles with clever costume additions over their white underdress, all capturing the Regency era style. Debuted in Glasgow the cast deliver their roles in a variety of regional accents that I think Austen would have approved of. A Welsh Elizabeth Bennet, a cringe worthy Lydia from Newcastle and Mrs Bennet straight out of London. A Regency Ball became a town hall ball swilling cheap prosecco in red plastic cups, with a lot of swearing and karaoke, to give you an idea of what to expect.

The basic story of Pride and Prejudice is still there, you will still hear the key phrases and see the key moments (though no Darcy emerging from a lake despite the encouragement of the staff!). You will recognise the attitudes and behaviours but there is also the comedy and cutting observations from the book so often overlooked in TV and film productions.


Three of the cast are musicians and all take a turn on the Karaoke. The perfectly timed physical comedy is hilarious and the regular dives into 70s pop classics never felt out of place. Seeing these ingenious ladies bring out their male personas was a treat – Dannie Harris moving between the exasperating Mrs Bennet and the insufferable Mr Darcy was something special. Leah Jamieson as Mary, Lydia and Mr Collins was another stand out performance. It was fast paced and full of surprises, all quietly observed by Mr Bennet in the form of a large chair with it’s back to the stage, only a newspaper and smoke in view. Nevertheless, Mrs Bennet was able to rage at him in a very witty way.

Many modern critics of the book attack how eager Mrs Bennet is to marry off her five daughters and how willing most are to play the game. But faced with the fact their aging father would not be long with them all the Bennet women would be left destitute as women could not inherit but their husbands could. Marriage at any cost was a way to survive.

It is plain that the writer and co-director Isobel McArthur has a message. She uses five outstanding female performers to play all roles and regularly remind us of the plight of women - whatever your ‘class’ - in the Regency era. A plight many women still face around the world today.


Serious subjects aside, there was another message. Jane Austen is awesome, witty, insightful and really funny. While her work has been reinterpreted so many times (even with Zombies), if you think Austen is too highbrow or stuffy, book a ticket to this performance and see beyond the bonnets. I promise you will never see her quite the same way again.

Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) plays at Nottingham's Theatre Royal from Monday 27 March to Saturday 1 April 2023.

Theatre Royal

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