Bristol Old Vic theatre review: Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of)

Ginny Gould reviews Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of), playing at Bristol Old Vic until Saturday 28 September

The person who came to see Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) with me tonight is a theatre geek, someone who has seen it all and can be quite harsh in her criticism of things I don’t even notice as faults. So when she came out at the end of the show and said ‘I think that’s the best thing I’ve seen in the theatre for a long time’ it really meant something. And she’s a huge Jane Austen fan too.

This show is absolutely fantastic – as long as you don’t mind a bit of sweariness and wine-swigging females. It’s caught that beautiful point where the huge belly-laughs at the ridiculousness merge into genuine tears of emotion at the soppy bits. This seems like a huge achievement in light of the fact that we all know the story and how it’s going to end, although we’ve never gone there via this particular route before.

There’s two main impressions that I’ve been left with. One is that I’d love to go out for a drink with the six women on stage. The chemistry between them is awesome, they slip in and out of different characters, and sometimes out of character altogether but at all times they seem to be having the time of their lives up there on stage. Which of course in itself could be due to the fact that they are exceptionally good actresses, but it doesn’t matter. Part of the joy of tonight was the feeling that I’ve been let into a party where all are welcome and the hosts are having just the best time ever.

The other is that these women really, really can take you on the journey with them, and what a journey it is. The characters are ridiculous – and I’ll come back to that – but they are genuine and it doesn’t matter that Darcy is a bird who’s still wearing a dress under the jacket and was Mrs Bennett just a second ago, it’s Darcy, just as Mr Collins was Kitty the moment before. I’ve just counted and these six actors play twenty-one different characters during the course of the show.

I think if I have favourites at all it’s Hannah Jarrett-Scott whose huge presence dominates the first couple of scenes as Tillie, Meghan Tyler whose facial expressions make Lizzie such a joy, Tori Burgess’ Lydia who is the epitome of annoying and stupid little sisters, Christina Gordon as the supremely arrogant and unlikeable Lady Catherine, Felixe Forde as the unbearably repellent Mr Collins and last but not least, Isobel McArthur whose histrionic Mrs Bennett is worryingly familiar; in fact I’m sure some of the lines that came out of her mouth have come out of mine at times. I’m pretty sure that I may use her ‘Baby Jesus would be spinning in his grave’ line in the future, though I’m not sure that I could ever match the absolutely spot-on delivery that made it so appallingly funny.

Who knows how any of our emancipated, wine-swilling, potty-mouthed and opinionated friends would react to being in a world where women’s futures are completely dependent on whether one of a family of females manages to snag a husband as none of them are allowed to inherit or own anything? Apart from the obvious fact that most of us wouldn’t be the emancipated and opinionated women we are in those restricted circumstances; though as it’s pointed out early on, spinsters don’t need money to live as their hot flushes will keep them warm, and there’s no need for food because they’re surrounded by cats.

However, if your modern woman was dropped fully-fledged into the Bennett family, this is what it might look like. The beautiful thing about Isobel McArthurs interpretation of the story is that she’s taken the essence of the story and made it more. None of the spirit of the original is lost, but the characters are somehow more themselves, to the point where they are almost, but not quite, caricatures.

I have to admit it’s a while since I’ve read Pride and Prejudice but the storyline is very clearly there and strictly adhered to even if the language is just a touch different. My companion knows it in much more detail, thanks to her A Level English syllabus and her thoughts were that the subtext has been skilfully drawn out, so that, for example, Kitty who is barely a character in the book is here the beaten-down victim of her monstrous little sister’s bullying and her mother’s lack of awareness. And of course, in the background providing a commentary to the proceedings are the servants who see all.

On top of all this, there’s lots of singing. Karaoke-style singing, sometimes slightly off-key or wobbly, of songs we all know. I won’t give much away, but I really, really knew how much I loved this production at the moment a drunken Lizzie put the wine bottle down and started belting out the first lines of ‘You’re so Vain’ soon after first encountering Mr Darcy. The perfectly timed and delivered Pulp song later on was the icing on the cake.

I haven’t mentioned the rest of the team, the choreographers, designers, technicians, directors and the rest that make this sort of magic happen, but they’ve done more than well. I honestly don’t think I’ve laughed as much as this at a show ever before, nor been taken on such an unexpectedly emotional ride. I’ve definitely never heard Elizabeth Bennett bellow ‘Fuck off’ like that before.

It’s worth every penny to go and see this, as long of course as you don’t have any objections to women swearing and drinking or Austen being ‘abused’. Seriously, it’s brilliant. I loved it.

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