Last year was the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, therefore (understandably) quite a few related events & shows popped up over the course of 12 months. I love Austen’s work and am fascinated by the times in which she lived, so I managed to get to one or two things to mark the anniversary, but one show I really do wish I’d been able to include in that was Sara Pascoe’s adaptation of the classic Pride and Prejudice. Not just because it is a fantastic story, but also because I was certain Pascoe would put her own unique twist on it, rather than simply recreate the novel onstage.
Sara Pascoe is one of my favourite comedians; I’m desperate to finally see her live show at some point this year, and I almost find it reassuring when she is one of the selected female comics on any given panel show, as I find her humour intelligent and incredibly relatable. She’s also a writer & actress, so she hasn’t just made the leap straight from stand-up to playwright!
The production had its première at Nottingham Playhouse last September, moving on to York Theatre Royal in October. I don’t need to think too hard about my reasons for not being able to make it up to either venue to see it performed… As well as an insane reviewing schedule, I was making the most of the final few weeks of the Summer of Love – and also shelled out on a last-minute stay in Chichester when a ticket to McKellen’s King Lear became available. But, as much as I regret nothing as far as what I did see during that time, I still wish I’d had a moment to fit one more out of London trip into my diary. Luckily for me, however, Samuel French published the play text so I can get a better idea of what I missed out on.
To start off with, I almost wondered if I’d got the right book! It begins in the drawing room at Longbourn with news of Mr Bingley’s arrival in the county, setting up home in the nearby Netherfield Park. With a house full of daughters, Mrs Bennet is of course keen to make them known to the unmarried Bingley – and Pascoe has created as hilarious a matriarch as I have seen on stage or screen!
What’s less expected, and what sets this version of the story apart from others I’ve seen, is the jump from Regency fiction to a modern day classroom, where a teacher is leading a class about the book. After writing the famous first sentence, she asks the class: “Can anybody tell me what “heteronormative” means?”
Not only are there scenes in a school, but also some of the play takes place in an edit suite where a filmed version of the story is being finished up – from what I can gather from the text alone, it seems like the Regency scenes are actually the ‘film’ as there are some scenes labelled as ‘rehearsal’ – and also a TED talk about Jane Austen & Pride and Prejudice. These serve as ways to try and analyse the novel, as well as investigate its relevance now (if indeed it is).
I’m sure the ambiguity over some of these sections would be removed if I was watching a production rather than reading and trying to imagine it; I’m not sure the character list is as comprehensive as it could be, plus I’m intrigued as to how the quick onstage changes would be managed.
I do wonder if there are too many strands to it, and that perhaps just the school and rehearsal would be enough modern day material to run through Austen’s story itself. out of necessity the story has been abridged, but not in too dramatic a fashion – most noticeably Mr Wickham and the militia have less stage time, which fits quite well with the occasional references to people seemingly forgetting that the Napoleonic wars are casting a shadow over Europe at the time.
But when all’s said and done, there’s no messing with the classic couplings, Mrs Bennet is an hysterical hoot, Mary is delightfully weird, and it’s definitely a new take on a very well-known story.