Friday, 29 September 2017

Pride and Prejudice - Nottingham Playhouse

I've always found Jane Austen's work funny  -  but with a wry, satirical humour, a commentary, if you will, on the society of her times  - so I was surprised to find myself laughing out loud last night at Nottingham Playhouse's production of Pride and Prejudice. I probably shouldn't really have been that taken aback as this new adaptation comes from comedian Sara Pascoe, who has taken the well-known story of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy, and given it a shake up, exploiting the comedy elements, and downplaying the romantic side.
Mr Bennet's dry wit, Mary's bizarre posturing, Mr Collins' self-importance, are all things I'd found funny before ... but Mr Darcy himself? He's surely too serious and stuffy? Take that first demand for Elizabeth's hand while she's staying with the newly-wed Collins - it's arrogant and rude, and my reaction is normally anger on behalf of Elizabeth and her family, but Bethan Mary-James (Elizabeth) and Matt Whitchurch (Darcy), reading sections from it alternately, turned it into something so preposterous that all the audience could do was laugh (Mr D also struggled to keep a straight-face,which set the audience off again!).

Maybe purists won't approve, because the characters' words are not solely those written by Austen (the proposal letter is though), because some minor plot points are skipped, or they didn't like the present day scenes, but it still holds true to the original 'feel'. Adding the modern characters - a teacher, teenagers, a TED lecturer, actors - gives Sara Pascoe the chance to share a bit of historical background to the story, especially the hard economic truth that lies behind the romance; that on their father's death the Bennet sisters will find themselves penniless and homeless. What makes the story of five sisters desperately seeking husbands still work today, is that the Bennet sisters, despite their probable impoverished future, are looking for love first, a financially comfortable husband second - unlike pragmatic Charlotte Lucas who knows her 'sell-by date' is fast approaching and will grab any potential man on offer.

Consider it a 're-imagining', in the way the film Bride and Prejudice, or Curtis Sittenfeld's recent novel Eligible are, rather than an attempt to re-create the book on stage, and it's brilliant; fab, funny and thought-provoking by turn, it's one of the best adaptations I've seen. Oh, and by the way, there are NO zombies, and Mr Darcy doesn't walk dripping out of the lake!

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