Isobel McArthur

Pride & Prejudice* (*Sort Of)

24/01/20

Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

I’m enjoying the current flush of period drama adaptations on both stage and screen: Greta Gerwig’s Little Women, Armando Iannucci’s The Personal History of David Copperfield, Zinnie Harris’s The Duchess (Of Malfi). The staid and starchy interpretations I remember from my youth are long gone. Now there’s verve, vigour and a sense of fun, an assertion of the protagonists’ youth and the authors’ humour, a sharp incision that takes us to the beating heart of classic texts.

And Jane Austen is especially funny, isn’t she? (I come to this version as, if not quite a Janeite, then at least a fan of her writing.) It’s easy to lose sight of how bitingly satirical she was because her sarcasm is couched in antiquated politenesses, her characters’ bound by alien social mores. Here, writer Isobel McArthur strips away these obstacles to modern understanding, offering us a cast of refreshingly familiar wine-quaffing, lustful young women, whose potty-mouths are endearing and hilarious. Hurrah! These are people we can recognise and revel with, whose broken hearts and thwarted ambitions we can really care about.

It’s Pride & Prejudice through and through; we don’t really need the ‘sort of’ to qualify anything; the changes here are only superficial. The story is intact: the five Bennett girls and their parents are hostages to a dodgy will that determines only a man can inherit their father’s home and (modest) fortune. If he dies, the women will be destitute. No wonder Mrs Bennett is desperate to see her daughters married: their very livelihoods depend on it. No wonder either that a rich man is preferred; if he has a good income, he can take care of all of them. A shame, then, that they live in Meryton, where eligible bachelors are few and far between, and that firebrand Lizzie (Meghan Tyler) is so choosy about who she’ll shack up with. Until she meets the enigmatic Darcy (Isobel McArthur), and their love-hate relationship begins…

Directed by Paul Brotherston, Pride & Prejudice* (*Sort Of) is a glorious, riotous romp of a play, a bawdy, feminist iteration of the tale. The deployment of a karaoke machine is inspired, a perfect reimagining of the piano and singing performances required of young ladies in Austen’s time. The six-strong cast are all magnificent, but the standout moments belong to Hannah Jarrett-Scott, who switches effortlessly between a Tim-Nice-But-Dim-style Bingley and a tragic, lovelorn Charlotte Lucas. McArthur’s repressed, inarticulate Darcy is also a sheer delight, and props too to Mr Bennett, performed by a backward-facing armchair and an ever-present newspaper.

The only false note for me is the servant girl conceit. At the play’s opening, we’re introduced to the domestic help, reminded of their presence in the novels, told of how they are ignored. From thereon in, what we’re witnessing is supposed to be their play-acting, their impersonations of their employers, their interpretation of the landed gentry’s world. But we don’t learn anything about them, nor about their opinions, their deprivations, their own hopes and dreams. We just get Austen’s story; the working class is still ignored.

Still, it doesn’t detract too much. This is a sprightly, engaging, laugh-out-loud piece of theatre, richly deserving of tonight’s standing ovation.

4.6 stars

Susan Singfield

Wendy & Peter Pan

30/11/18

Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

The story of Peter Pan is a perennial Christmas favourite for family audiences. This clever reworking by Ella Hickson, created for the Royal Shakespeare Company in 2013, is adapted not from JM Barrie’s original play, but from from the extended version he published as a novel in 1911.

As you might deduce from the rearranged title, this is an altogether more feminist version of the story. Instead of being a helpless victim throughout the action, Wendy (Isobel McArthur) is clearly one for taking the initiative and, as it turns out, she’s also a dab hand with a cutlass. She first meets Peter (Ziggy Heath) shortly after the death of her brother, Tom (Keiran Gallagher); a year later, her parents, still unable to regain their equilibrium, appear to be drifting apart. Then Tom reappears and takes Wendy and her two other brothers, John (George Naylor) and Michael (Christian Ortega), off to join the Lost Boys in Neverland…

This rumbustious, sprawling adventure seems to delight in subverting audience expectations. Hook (Gyruri Sarossy) is not the usual sneering fop, but an oafish yob who’s beginning to feel the inexorable advance of old age. His bosun, Smee (Dorian Simpson), is a pernickety, snarky sort of fellow, who also throws a few good dance moves when he’s in the mood. Tink (Sally Reid) is a punky Glaswegian in dark glasses and sparkly leggings who is well versed in caustic remarks. There are sword fights aplenty (one of which I fear goes on a tad too long), a spectacular pirate ship set and, of course, there’s quite a bit of flying, though sometimes this feels a little too careful to be truly magical. I expect that will develop as the performers become more confident with the ropes and harnesses.

Needless to say, the younger members of the audience (at whom this is mostly aimed) have a great time with this, although one little chap in front of us does seem a bit overwhelmed by an unexpected visit from a very large and hungry crocodile; and there’s enough depth here for the big kids in the audience not to feel left out. The most interesting idea is an allegory about bereavement and the need for people to move on with their lives. Perhaps, Hickson seems to be saying, Neverland is something more than just a place for aimless kids to hang out.

At any rate, those with restless youngsters seeking entertainment could do a lot worse than head down to the Lyceum for their yuletide fix. This is sprightly stuff that should keep the whole family thoroughly entertained.

4 stars

Philip Caveney