Jane Austen’s literary classic as karaoke? It seems an unlikely fit at first, but Isobel McArthur’s roistering all-female pop musical adaptation, Pride and Prejudice* (*Sort Of), remains unexpectedly true to the novel’s familiar twin themes of hidden passions and economic hardships brought on by a horde of unmarried daughters.
There are laughs aplenty, both period and modern (on one occasion even embracing Brexit), as the young, six-strong cast exchange roles and genders at break-neck speed, switching from single-minded women one moment to anally retentive men the next. The permanently detached Mr Bennet is represented in designer Ana Inés Jabares-Pita’s extravagant set by an empty leather chair.
McArthur’s biggest joke – the clash of cultures between the lovelorn pop world of the 1960s and the romanticism of Austen’s day – is never in danger of swamping the message about women’s lot down the ages. This is cleverly represented by the six players appearing at both the start, and the foot-stamping musical climax, as below-stairs servants.
Musical supervisor Michael John McCarthy’s unrequited love soundtrack remixes everything from Chris de Burgh (allowing for a particularly clever pun on our heroine’s nemesis Lady Catherine de Burgh) to Andy Williams and the Shirelles. Cast members are constantly handing microphones to each other, and proclaiming the agonies of love with some style from conveniently located beer crates.
They also play onstage instruments, ranging from a squeezebox to a harp, allowing director Paul Brotherston to harness the music both as part of the joke and as part of the Bennet family’s individual personalities and foibles.
Probably the most effective, and certainly the most bizarre double is essayed by writer Isobel McArthur playing a paranoid, match-making Mrs Bennet and an at-first-inscrutable Mr Darcy.
Almost as big an about-face comes from Christina Gordon’s dignified and sadly jilted Jane and the magnificently overbearing Lady Catherine, while Meghan Tyler is both strong-willed and vulnerable as a likeable Elizabeth Bennet. Felixe Forde, making her professional debut, wrings the laughs out of two of Austen’s most unattractive characters, smarmy churchman Mr Collins and chancer George Wickham. Hannah Jarrett-Scott lands both Mr and Miss Bingley with considerable style and Tori Burgess brings poor put-upon Mary out of her shell for the rousing musical finale.
All six players have powerful singing voices and bring their own magnetism to this new mounting of Blood of the Young and Tron Theatre Company’s co-production, first seen at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow last year.
It feels, in a strange sort of way, that Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) would have won the approval of Austen herself, as well as that of the more open-minded of her fans when it goes out on tour this autumn and next spring.