'Pride & Prejudice' (sort of) after Jane Austen
Now onstage at Toronto's CAA Theatre
Credit: Mihaela Bodlovic
“A cheeky, bodacious, and delightful ensemble. The production respectfully pokes entertaining fun at Jane Austen’s iconic novel.”
Isobel McArthur’s tongue-in-cheek adaptation follows the lives of the five Bennett sisters as they each try to find a husband under the dutiful eyes of their mother. The sisters understand that they will become destitute and lose control over house ownership if they do not marry wealthy husbands. Each woman also begins to understand her duty and place within Regency society. We also see the love story of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy play out in front of the audience.
What makes McArthur’s story adaptation unique? These five women are servants in this upscale home. In her Director’s Programme Note, McArthur writes that ‘Pride & Prejudice’ is also set during the Napoleonic wars. While most men were off fighting, women made up for a disproportionate number of household servants. The five ladies play many roles in ‘sort of’ telling Austen’s story set in 1716 through modern twenty-first-century vernacular.
I arrived at the theatre today not having read ‘Pride & Prejudice’ in my undergraduate years while studying for my Bachelor of Arts in English Language and Literature. You may ask, “How can an English major not read a book by Jane Austen?”
“I’ll tell you; I don’t know.”
“But it’s true, I didn’t read it.” (Thanks to Tevye’s conversation with the audience in ‘Fiddler on the Roof’ for this inspirational reference)
Two things that didn’t destroy my attention towards ‘Pride & Prejudice’ (sort of):
a) I could follow the story thanks to the colloquial language used in the dialogue.
b) my guest today loves Austen’s novel. She was able to fill me in on a few amusing references I might not have connected with since I hadn’t seen the film with Colin Firth nor read the novel.
Visually, the Regency era has been effectively captured thanks to Designer Ana Inés Jabares-Pita’s design of the grand semi-circular staircase. The drawings of the book spines on the wall and each staircase step nicely suggest an upscale setting without having to show that we are in a wealthy, upscale manor. Simple white costumes suggest these ladies are servants within the house at the top of the show. As the story progresses, they throw on various accoutrements and become the various characters. Colin Grenfell’s lighting indicates where attention is to be focused for each scene.
I’ve been commenting on sound design for several productions recently and continue stressing the importance of hearing the dialogue and the lyrics of songs if applicable. Once again, thanks to Michael John McCarthy and Niamh Gaffney for aptly ensuring that sound quality is an essential component.
‘Pride & Prejudice’ (sort of) is an extremely smart comedy, making it a great deal of fun to watch. Thanks to Directors Isobel McArthur and Simon Harvey’s observant attention and this cheeky, bodacious, and delightful girl power ensemble of dynamite ladies, some wonderfully staged comic moments made me laugh out loud.
Before the show begins, the ladies immediately break the fourth wall and enter the house, chatting, kibitzing, and joking with the audience. Yours truly had the top of his bald pate sprayed and wiped clean with a (hopefully) clean rag. If you are in the aisle seat, take notice that you may become part of the staged fun. And if you are, relish the moment. Remember, it’s the Christmas and holiday season. We all need to smile and laugh.
Emily Jane Boyle’s choreography remains simple but nicely timed to the vocal numbers. There were moments when I couldn’t help but make a few favourable comparisons to ‘Six’ playing just a few blocks over. In both productions, the choreography aptly reflects the internal emotions the characters are experiencing.
Some theatre aficionados may struggle with the idea of the continuous breaking of the fourth wall throughout a live performance. I get it that the magic of the theatre involves transporting the audience away for a couple of hours to another place and time.
In this ‘Pride & Prejudice,’ the continued breaking is of necessity, especially in the staged karaoke numbers of twentieth century pop songs. They offer a biting and funny commentary on a plot event. The riding of Willy made me double-take, but man, oh, man, did I ever laugh.
These five women are the main reasons to see the show over the holiday season and into the new year. It’s sensational ensemble work. The ladies listen carefully to each other and respond appropriately to the jokes and double entendres.
Absolute hilarity and joy in the CAA Theatre.
Running time: approximately 2 hours and 25 minutes with one intermission.
‘Pride & Prejudice (sort of) runs until January 21, 2024, at the CAA Theatre, 651 Yonge Street, Toronto. For tickets: mirvish.com or call 1-800-461-3333.
PRIDE & PREJUDICE (sort of) by Isobel McArthur after Jane Austen
Directors: Isobel McArthur and Simon Harvey
Musical Supervisor: Michael John McCarthy
Choreographer: Emily Jane Boyle
Sound Designers: Michael Mohn McCarthy and Niamh Gaffney for AUTOGRAPH
Designer: Ana Inés Jabares-Pita
Lighting Designer: Colin Grenfell
Comedy Director: Jos Houben
Performers: Ruth Brotherton, Christina Gordon, Lucy Gray, Dannie Harris, Leah Jamieson, Olivia Dowd, Grace Liston