By BWV Reporter Suzi Bratt
Looking through my notes before writing this article one phrase stood out, thanks not only to the wobbly text written in the dark, the large capitals and the excited lines bursting from each letter, but also due to the lasting honesty of the description – irreverent joy. Even now, sat at my desk, far from the enchanting ambience of the theatre, the words still ring true. Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of), a Tron Theatre Company and Blood of the Young production, gracing the stage at the Bristol Old Vic this September, embodied this phrase whole-heartedly.
Lovingly (it appears) rewritten by lead actor Isobel McArthur, the subversive set up begins with the all-female cast moving around the simple yet adaptable stage in a flurry of plain white dresses, chamber pots and black boots. You are introduced, through both direct address and catchy dance number, to the servants of Austen’s classic tale – the women who ensure that every whirlwind romance upstairs is accompanied by a new set of clean bedding. They will be your guide through this world, donning frocks and jackets that instantly transform them into the likes of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy. Through their reenactment you watch the tale unfold, losing yourself in this multi-layered presentation.
Exploring this classic through the eyes of the household servants seems to have given the company more space to undermine the expected and to navigate the narrative from an original and sometimes irreverent point of view. From a captivating performance of ‘You’re so Vain’ to a tray full of tea cake hors d’oeuvres, elements of modern nostalgia brought a welcoming and contemporary energy to the production. This was only improved by the warmth of the cast who treated even the most ridiculous of interruptions (I’m looking at you audience member with the extravagant ringtone) with good humour and made you feel like you were part of some hilarious in-joke.
In the accompanying program, McArthur cites Pride and Prejudice as “one of the original romantic comedies”. Theatrical renditions of Austen and other classics can sometimes be met with a sigh, a worry that the next three hours are going to be spent watching some stuffy satire that has little to do with modern life and everything to do with tightly laced bonnets.Alternatively, Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) is a personality-lead adaptation that consistently breaks the fourth wall with both snippets of contextual information and audacious winks, destroying this premise in an explosion of colourful confetti. The company have created an accessible performance that offers both a classic tale and a riotous good time interspersed with karaoke, school-like discos and a comforting tin of Quality Street.
Throughout the performance the cast joyfully play with tropes, whether it be the bookish and overlooked sister or the suave and possibly not-so-sophisticated wealthy young bachelor, they had me utterly in stitches with every new iteration. In fact, by the end of the performance the muscles in my face actually hurt from smiling. Though I couldn’t help but remember a certain movie rendition from my teenage years (I’m talking Kiera Knightly here, not Colin Firth), Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) felt fresh and engaging and utterly new.
Needless to say, the production very much deserved the standing ovation it received and I left the building invigorated, with a smile plastered across my face.
Catch the performance at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre until the 28th September.