There are some shows with modest beginnings that seem to have all of the industry behind them, willing them to succeed. Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of) is one of them. The week it opened in the West End this month, I had at least three people invite me to see it to help spread the love and word of mouth.
So let me join the chorus: this is the little show that could and does. It’s great fun and deserves to be seen by as many folks as we can pack into the Criterion Theatre, where it has promptly extended booking through to next April (and wherever it goes next – I anticipate a very full touring future).
A note in the programme tells the story behind the play from its initial performance at Glasgow’s Tron Theatre in 2017. The feature starts and ends with the line “Just sometimes, the system works”.
In brief: the Tron commissioned Isobel McArthur to adapt a classic, she chose Pride & Prejudice having picked up a copy in a local secondhand bookshop (another programme note), it was “an instant sensation”, artistic directors of eight other major regional producing theatres (Edinburgh Lyceum, Leeds Playhouse, Northern Stage Newcastle, Birmingham Rep, Oxford Playhouse, Nuffield Southampton, Bristol Old Vic) banded together to mount a tour of their venues, renowned West End producer David Pugh picked it up… and then… Covid.
But somehow, like the industry at large, everyone battled through, kept the company and project together and here it is at last – a witty and irreverent take on a literary classic, performed from the perspective of the servants in Jane Austen‘s world, with six women playing all the characters with breaks for eclectic karaoke interludes – an instant West End sensation. (Hard to choose my favourite musical number, but opening with Elvis Costello‘s “Every Day I Write the Book” is inspired.)
Last word to Royal Lyceum and Bristol Old Vic artistic directors David Greig and Tom Morris (subliminal message: buy the programme):
“Theatre needs artists, it needs young companies, it needs talent hot beds like The Tron, it needs theatres who offer new work to regional audiences. It needs crazy commercial producers to take risks and think big… Theatre needs all of us, but most of all, it needs you – the audience.”
Amen to all of that.
More on-the-night Twitter thoughts about the show below.
Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of) is at the West End’s Criterion Theatre.
Production photography by Matt Crockett.