As the curtain falls on Sara Pascoe’s comic adaptation of Pride and Prejudice the modern anthem of female emancipation, Beyonce’s Single Ladies, can be heard playing at the Nottingham Playhouse – I’d never have predicted, almost 3 hours earlier that this is how the production would have ended.
Any historic stage or television production of one of the greatest British love stories of all time brings with it an enormous amount of responsibility – in more recent adaptations we’ve had zombies, frilly shirts, a very wet Mr Darcy and even nudity – but all have respected Austen as a brand and known that anyone taking her on has enormous boots to fill. This version, is a musical comedy, that successfully managed to fill those boots and walk the audience to laughter and applause!
For Austen zealots looking for a classic reproduction of the novel, originally set in the early 19th century, this one is not for you but for those who can recognise the comedy that the real tragedy of the plot represents, you’re in for a treat.
Although the production does attempt to stay as true to Austen’s poetic language and plot as possible, the comedy is not so much about the “action” we’ve become so accustomed to focusing on in the British novellist’s work at school, on television or even on stage, but more about Pascoe’s interpretation of that action from a contemporary and more realistic stance.
And Pascoe’s script briefly touches upon those moments, with intermittent contemporary commentators from these settings which include a director and her cast in rehearsal, a male and female video editor with a love interest and two school girls and their teacher (Bethan Mary-James, who also plays Elizabeth Bennet) who pass comment on story, set, choreography and key themes. In the second half we’re even treated to a rather enigmatic TEDtalk.
It’s as though she’s asked, “how would Jane Austen present this work today?”
Five sisters unable to inherit their family’s own wealth due to gender with only piano playing and singing as a fallback. The idea that women of the regency period sold themselves for a roof over their heads sounds incredibly outdated to me – and Pascoe applies “sense and sensibility” and seems to agree too.
I mean, the only way to present the tragic concept of feminine bias is to burst into a song about the Bennet’s plight and a call for understanding from the audience, right?
What I loved about this staging was that Elizabeth Bennet stands for something more than in productions I’ve previously seen – in the actual novel she isn’t lovely and ladylike at all, she’s direct and dismissive and Bethan Mary-James doesn’t dilute it one bit.
The set is dramatic, and effective with the cast acting out the various scenes from within a gilded cage, lighting is at its most effective between the scenes of contemporary and olden day while the music from Emmy the Great compliments the play best in the background.
The love is still spectacularly celebrated in this adaptation of Pride and Prejudice – what I initially expected to be a modernisation of the classic was not, and for that I was grateful.
Pride and Prejudice runs at The Nottingham Playhouse until 30th September