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Ladies Challenging Gender Divisions (Sort Of)

Jane Austen’s iconic novel continues its appeal in Isobel McArthur’s rewriting of the classic, introducing her unforgettable and hugely entertaining, karaoke style production of Pride and Prejudice (Sort Of), writes Carolyn Hart Taylor. 

Changing perspective entirely, McArthur writes the play from the viewpoint of socially overlooked positions, resulting in five scullery maids taking the stage by storm. Discarding low status positions, the maids, played by an impressive all-female cast take on the roles of the five Bennett sisters and each male character, leaving them decked in ball gowns, brocaded jackets and Doc Martins, the play continually questions divisions. 

Restricted by gender, Austen’s girls were prepped for marriage to secure a future, McArthur’s play revels in exposing this absurdity through the familiar clucking-hen mother Mrs. Bennet, played by McArthur herself, continuing her shameless manipulation, ensuring her daughters wed wealthy partners, but wearily ditching social etiquette with her comical swearing. 

Playfully hilarious scenes ensue as Elizabeth Bennet (Tori Burgess) mocks Mr. Darcy’s(Isobel McArthur) historically admired handsome, strong, silent persona. Exasperated by his haughtiness, she bellows, ‘Are you ever going to talk? Do you actually speak, Mr. Darcy?’ Characters consistently prod us to look outside for alternatives to conventional behaviours. 

Pride and Prejudice’s preoccupation with women of merit approved by their accomplishments is mercilessly sent-up in frenetic scenes. The shambolically dressed Bennett sisters play trumpet, piano, tambourine and mockingly sing a karaoke version of ‘You’re So Vain’ to Darcy. 

Removal of the fourth wall allows audiences to connect with characters, appreciating why the genders act as they do but revealing it through riotous fun: Jane riding a life-sized horse on stage, Darcy denying us Colin Firth’s iconic wet-shirt scene, Charlotte(Hannah Jarrett-Scott) playing a lesbian love interest that Elizabeth remains ignorant of; it is all designed to challenge the notion of norm. 

Conveying a Georgian environment through a sweeping staircase and opulent chandelier, creates a stage within a stage effect, perfect for the social elite to strut and peacock upon and the actors to expose their act. 

Plucky, hilarious and hugely entertaining production.

Criterion Theatre, 218-223 Piccadilly, Piccadilly Circus, W1V 9LB until 17th April . Times: Tuesday to Friday at 7.30pm, Saturday 3pm & 7.30pm, Sunday 2.30pm & 7pm. Admission: £9.50-£59.50

Box Office:  033 33 202 895

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