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Pride & Prejudice: joyously entertaining (& clever)

Of all the adaptations of Jane Austen’s great novel of manners, surely there has never been one as joyously entertaining as Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of) which opened at the New Theatre, Cardiff last night (Monday 20 March).

It’s a fast-paced, brilliantly staged, retelling of the 200-year-old story of the Bennet sisters and their mother’s efforts to marry them off to rich husbands – and save the family from poverty.

Here the tale is told by domestic servants – in fact, you may find them cleaning the auditorium before the show begins (I’m not joking!). Who better to tell it? As they remind us, they don’t just empty chamber pots – they always know what’s going on, and they’ve seen everyone naked!

The show features a string of appropriate pop classics including Holding Out for a Hero, Young Hearts Run Free, Will You Love Me Tomorrow and You’re So Vain.

And the songs work very well – seemlessly weaving into the story, thanks to a karaoke machine and a handy microphone, tucked into a dress or on a serving platter.

The cast of five is bursting with talent. Lucy Gray, Dannie Harris, Leah Jamieson, Megan Louise Wilson, and Ruth Brotherton play multiple roles through the complex story of courtship, betrayal, and misunderstandings.

They enter a society of elegance and sophistication, so when they attend an extravagant ball, the much-praised ‘finger food’ may include Wagon Wheels, possibly a slice of Viennetta, and if you’re quick, a Ferrero Rocher, washed down with some Irn Bru!

It may sound chaotic and rebellious – the set pieces range from riding a life-size but very static horse through a storm, to a romantic liaison, smoking cigarettes by the bin (the Jane Aust-bin, no less). But it’s very faithful to the original, and somehow respectful too.

Whether or not you’re familiar with the novel or any of the TV or film versions, you’ll find it hard not to love this show. It’s tremendous fun from start to finish, dazzlingly clever, and even romantic.

Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of) is written by Olivier and Evening Standard Theatre Award winner Isobel McArthur, who co-directs with Simon Harvey. Comedy staging is by Jos Houben, design by Ana Inés Jabares-Pita, lighting by Colin Grenfell, musical supervision by Michael John McCarthy, sound design by Michael John McCarthy and Luke Swaffield for Autograph and choreography – yes, there’s dancing too – by Emily Jane Boyle.

Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of) plays at the New Theatre until Saturday (25 March). Tickets are available from the box office on 0343 310 0041 or online here.

Review by Andy Weltch

Banner photo shows previous cast members

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