Jane Austen’s most iconic love story takes centre stage at the Criterion Theatre this season with Isobel McArthur’s hilarious and feel-good adaptation. So good I actually saw it twice, trust me when I say that’s a very good sign.
This retelling of the love story between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcey is told by the servants this time, with an all female-cast multi rolling all the characters and all the accents flawlessly, making the characters relatable and easily recognisable as today’s archetypes. The show made its way to London this October off the back of a successful run at The Edinburgh Fringe festival back in 2018. This is a good reflection of the creativity of the production, using enough references that audiences were giggling at Mrs. Bennett’s love of Wagon Wheel biscuits but not enough that it was cringey, yet.
Ana Inés Jabares-Pita’s costumes bring a heavy Bridgerton nostalgia and the swiftness of the costume changes did not go unnoticed. Nor did the massive winding staircases that took up most of the set, giving plenty of opportunity for the characters to make their grand regency entrances.
A pleasant surprise from this production was its musical stylings. Each actor was not only equipped with strong singing voices but with instruments to match. Hannah Jarrett-Scott in particular was exceptional, I found myself constantly waiting for her to sing again- and the real treat was her ability to pick up a guitar, piano (not literally pick up) and trumpet, using all to add great humour to the romantic failings of the other characters. Michael John Mcarthy’s choices in terms of bringing certain modern music into Austen’s context was fun. Especially the aggressive singing of Carly Simon’s You’re so Vain from Elizabth to Mr.Darcy. Although some musical references did go over my head (possibly due to my age), ending the show with Young Hearts Run Free by Candi Staton meant audiences couldn’t help but leave with a feel-good feeling.
Not only does this production stay true to Austen’s book in terms of fierce feminism and intelligent wit but it can be truly summed up as joyful. The interactions with the audience from the cast paired with the layers of theatricality from every aspect of production made it pretty hard not to have a good time. It’s a well welcomed break from seeing other London theatre that at times can get a bit doom and gloom. Although I do love the eye-opening and thought-provoking nature of modern plays today, this production uses the classic-ness of Austen to get in touch with the origins of theatre, escapism and fun.
For me what really made the production was the cast. Fearsomely talented women who just seemed to me like they were having the time of their life. Considering the play is 2 and a half hours long and often done twice a day these women are inspiring. Each bringing different elements to the table. Meghan Tyler does a perfect snarky Elizabeth Bennet, you may not necessarily think a lively Northern Irish accent would suit the Kiera Knightley role but I have to say, it works. And the chemistry with Isobel Mcarthur (who also created the show) as Mr Darcy is classic enemies to lovers. But it is in the role of Mrs Bennet that Mcarthur shines, think Pam from Gavin and Stacey in regency England. Christina Gordon captures the contrasting sweetness of Jane Bennet with the bad boy coolness of Mr. Wycombe very well, and with excellent comedic timing showing the initial intentions of the show to be true: the servants really do make the story. Hannah Jarrett-Scotts musical talents aside, she plays both the Billingly siblings in a way that makes modern audiences think they definitely know those types (and their accents) today. And Torri Burgess is one of those great actors who can just make a face or gesture and have audiences in stitches, without giving too much away, her Mary Bennet makes the end of the show for me.
Shockingly, but lucky for us, tickets for this show are very reasonable and relatively easy to come by. On their own website tickets start from £10. I recommend looking on websites such as TodayTix and Central Tickets which I use frequently for last-minute cheaper tickets, and for this show they really are a steal. I honestly do recommend this show for a fun night out and a laugh. This production brings joy, theatricality and incredible female talent back to London. Running until April at the Criterion theatre in Piccadilly Circus, go see a play as audacious and fun as Ms. Austen herself would have wanted.