Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of) – Royal Lyceum Theatre

Written by Isobel McArthur after Jane Austen

Directed by Paul Brotherston

Ignore everything you may have thought you knew about Jane Austen’s literary classic Pride & Prejudice; Isobel McArthur is about to change your entire perception. It takes a vision to reinvigorate a text, especially one with as countless adaptations, stiffness and dust that Pride & Prejudice conjure to a general audience, but Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of) brings a freshness to the crumpled pages.

Every story is made up of the background lives upon which is builds a foundation. Sometimes, these backdrop characters form mere scenery, other times the stories wouldn’t cope without them – as can you truly have romance without clean linen? McArthur’s loving retelling of the Bennet sisters lives, and their Mother’s resolution to secure their future is told by six women, all of whom are the cleaners, bedmaids and keepers of the family home. For who has a better impression of what is going on upstairs, but those downstairs?

Taking on the mantle of adapting Austen’s piece for comedy is a feat taken on by many, with few succeeding. Lizzie Bennet has found herself an online vlogger, fighting zombies and on more than one occasion, no longer human. To not only infuse rich, distinctly West Coast humour, with a bubbling blend of gutter sniping insults, a wit beyond measure but perform the roles of Mrs Bennet and Colin Firth Mr Darcy too, well no bloody wonder Isobel McArthur looks proud at the standing ovation the production deserved.

Bo-Jo has arrived, and this might be the one time the buffooning Etonesque ‘charm’ has appeal, and if that doesn’t sell Hannah Jarrett-Scott’s performance of Charles Bingley then evidently recognising brilliance is a difficulty of yours. Manifesting four distinctly unique characters, with a tremendous helping of hot air, Jarrett-Scott finds a balance in excessive physicality, but still retains an emotional connection; particularly with Charlotte Lucas. Far from alone, equality exists between the six women’s role, with Tori Burgess bringing as much effervescent energy as Jarret-Scott.

This good ole’-fashioned stance of feminist storytelling finds comfort in its resolute cast of talents, who are living for their respective parts. As evident as the parody may be, the care in Austen’s text is equally clear – Meghan Tyler, evokes a brassier Elizabeth Bennet, but no less human. If you had any wonder if the writer of Crocodile Fever’s performance capability could match her written, from the outset Tyler’s characterisation makes it unambiguous how nimble her skill is in producing a character and shaking the audience’s pockets for every last dribble of laughter.

And that’s precisely what this is; fun. A collect of gags and laughs, Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of) is merriment at its hungover messy best. Finding a balance in larger than life chaos, with a ripple of dramatic integrity – there’s a delicate keel which tips in the smallest of ways. Pacing slackens towards the Act 1 climax, where a false ending of sorts crescendos in bombastic energy, to make way for a quick, narrative scene which drops momentum, even if it does close with a banging song choice. 

Thing is, what sort of party would this be without music? We’ve got finger foods, drama and wine – so surely the tunes must follow? A convoluted mixture of karaoke hits on shuffle, Michael John McCarthy’s legendary sound design and musical supervision achieve the lacing of pop classics with period literature without irking. It’s a release of sorts, the way only music can achieve; that just as the volatile nature of a scene grows, the only possible emotional release is to belt it all out – a task Christina Gordon’s Jane relishes.

If you’re having a peculiar sense of déjà vu, designer Ana Inés Jabares – Pita’s previous Lyceum production Twelfth Night seems to have been the benchmark for McArthur’s production. Paul Brotherston directs the space well, utilising the limitations of the venue, becoming remarkably inventive on occasion, enabling the six to showcase Emily Jane Boyle’s choreography, which sways from a movement-based to a more comical farce.

Now, despite what your English teacher may have once notified you; you’re allowed to dislike Pride & Prejudice or Austen. In particular, a fault not with the novel, but the exclusivity and absurd purity fans of the Period genre adhere to. In truth, the story is a paradigm of romantic comedy, a wonderful example of the genre and the disservice many adaptations do to the ‘image’ of Austen’s work. Isobel McArthur, on the other hand, has a canny ability to isolate an issue of class and place the servants in the storytellers armchair.

McArthur tears up the novel and lovingly binds the pages back together with chewing gum, plasters and a few choice vino stains. There is tremendous respect in the art of parody, even if they do pick apart the narrative issues, heavyhandedly highlighting how far (if at all) we have come from ‘antiquated’ beliefs. Invigorating a precious text, unafraid to let its mascara run while slapping on rose-tinted specs, and infusing it with plenty of craic; Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of) is sort of marvellous

Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of) runs at The Royal Lyceum Theatre until February 15th. Tickets are available from: https://lyceum.org.uk/whats-on/production/pride-and-prejudice-sort-of

Photography by Mihaela Bodlovic

The Two Popes – Edinburgh Filmhouse

Directed by Fernando Meirelles

Written by Anthony McCarten

With an audience of around 1.2 billion (give or take), Pope Francis, head of the Roman Catholic Church, arguably has the globe’s largest draw of worshippers, certainly exceeding actors, directors and writers. Some welcome his influence in an age where many criticise the Church over its inability to ordain women, its archaic views of sexuality and failures to tackle bureaucracy within. His predecessor, disagreeing virulently with Francis, may have just been the man to recognise this ability. Now if that isn’t a sound premise for one of the industry’s esteemed biopic writers, then we don’t know what is.

Delving into a subject many would resign to niche, Anthony McCarten’s The Two Popes squeezes each ounce of enthralling drama from one of organised religion’s most frustratingly difficult modern periods. With little surprise either, given McCarten’s previous work with award-winning biopics The Theory of Everything, Darkest Hour and Bohemian Rhapsody. An excavator of character, McCarten is an alchemist of biographies, homing in on aspects which are enticing for audiences, offering insight at the underbelly, though never to the off-putting degree. The same is true for the lives of Pope Benedict XVI and then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who would later become Pope Francis following Benedict’s resignation.

Moving from the stage, it’s evident that McCarten’s screenplay still rings of its theatrical counterpart, particularly in the staging and framework of Anthony Hopkins’ conversations with Jonathan Pryce. Much of the film is centred on dialogue, discussing world issues and individual moralities. Naturally, Pryce is in his element, and it’s clear to see in his movements that Meirelles’ has put some form of staging into his direction. Visually, the film is superb, entirely cinematic in thought-process, Mark Tildesley’s design work gorgeously reflecting the hollow emptiness of the Vatican halls.

The two stars retain the English language, for the most part, dipping into Latin or German when appropriate, but the physical transformations are spot-on. Particularly Hopkins static, open-armed frame of an ailing leader, coming to terms with his redundancy in a fast-moving world. It stretches into the comedic elements, Hopkins’ Pope Benedict XVI, a man noted for his less empathetic approach, with a profoundly German wit ricochets well against Pryce’s more conventional pun making, the two naturally flowing from one to the other.

Reliant on Pryce and Hopkins, it’s no wonder The Two Popes is in safe hands. Profound character studies, blending histories, McCarten draws parallels with Bergoglio’s history with the atrocities surrounding Pope Benedict’s time as ‘Il Papa’. A scandal to shudder the church, the concealment of child abuse sharply turned the public eye towards the secrets of organised religion. Acknowledging Pope Benedict’s involvement in the cover-ups, this is not the focus of the narrative, but instead focusing on Bergoglio’s lesser-known past, and the ‘betrayal’ he feels to have committed in South America, which feels like a side-step from controversy. 

Their flashbacks mark a tonal shift for the film, which for the most part has conducted a slower pace, reflective of the men it marks. The cardinal who once whistled ‘Dancing Queen in the Vatican bathrooms, who sought the piety of life, was of course, once a man. Juan Minujín’s performance offsets Pryce’s jolly, humble exterior for an aggressive, younger Priest who had a part to play in the ‘Dirty War’ of Argentina. 

Concealing itself behind the visage of stuffiness, try not to judge The Two Popes on subject matter alone. For while it focuses on two men standing as the pinnacle or relics of religious spiritualism, the meat of the film centres on adversaries who find harmony within one another. A striking visual splendour, humour rippling itself in the vein of the script, Pryce and Hopkins carry McCarten’s delicately humane adaptation, with meticulous direction to present a true event. It encases a playful stretch of accounts of how these two men, a progressive moderate and a conservative leader, would find a common ground, and a love for tango dancing.

Review originally published for The Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/the-two-popes/

The Two Pope’s is available to stream on Netflix from December 20th

The Season – The Royal & Derngate

Direction by Tim Jackson

Book & Music and Lyrics by Kit Buchan and Jim Barne

Ah, to be in New York for Christmas. To see the lights, soak in the smells of the chestnuts and hot-dog vendors as the flutters of snowfall scatter the heads and coats of the wealthy. Ice-skating in central park, dinner at the Ritz and horse-drawn rides across the cold cobbles, basking in the orange glow of streetlamps. What an utter crock. Kit Buchan’s new musical The Season takes our fetishism of the holiday season, not so far as satirising the genre, but inventively tying a classical Christmas narrative with sarcastic silver tongues, modern themes and honest, blunt views on the obsessive nature we have with the ‘perfect’ Chrsitmas image. 

Travelling over four-thousand miles to finally meet his father, Dougal is a young, naïve man whose thirst for life equals his sense of adventure for those classic movie’s set in the snowscapes of a New York Christmas. He’s adorable, but you may still feel the need to choke him out. Alex Cardall captures the innocence of a man whose need for validation, his delivery thrives with energy, leaping as though his feet strike fire with each landing. He’s the perfect counter-balance of traditional cheer against coffee server Robin’s grim, sarcastic bleakness.

Tis the season of sass for Robin, though this seems to be a year-round trend for her. By and large, Tori Allen-Martin goes beyond the cold stereotypes of a festive Scrooge, into a disenchanted woman whose rejection of the holiday stems from more than simple irritation at the cheer which surrounds it. What is so utterly superb about Allen-Martin, and Buchan’s writing is that Robin is a woman, living a woman’s life. This isn’t a perfectly envisioned stereotype, with brimming white smiles, slathered across the posters for ‘kooky’ Christmas productions. Instead, openly stating that Robin’s career as a waitress isn’t concealing a midnight romance of acting or writing, Robin is a woman who is surviving.

This is The Season’s resolute stance on the genre, where happy endings are an option, but not the fairytale of New York styles of Hallmark T.V. Families aren’t always necessarily where we end-up for the holidays, and the balance of our two leads keeps the other from delving too deep into extremes. Robin’s misery is relatable, bouncing off of Dougal’s optimism, dragging him into tolerance, as the role could easily slip into irritatingly chipper. Their growing connection is genuine, as we keep romance at bay, for the most part, learning from one another and furthering their development. With surprising growth from both leads, in no doubt largely down to talented performers and Tim Jackson’s direction.

And while guilty of exposition, Kit Buchan’s script rarely dips once we move beyond the 15-minute mark. Indeed, the second act is a superior piece in timing, particularly for its comedy, to the extent the production may benefit from trimming to an extended single act production. Allen-Martin and Cardall are fully capable of carrying the production for the two-act structure, but this isn’t to say the audience can maintain the same pacing. There’s little which couldn’t be trimmed from the production’s opening. Trimming this exposition would further enhance the refusal the production has to conform with tropes, obvious cliche’s and bolster an ending which refuses to end in the way one may expect.

Sometimes the greatest love stories don’t last forever, but only a single day. The Season has a modernist narrative, which still captures the characteristics of British romantic comedies, with just enough New York sensationalism of those 80s’ Meg Ryan classics. It’s as much a piece for theatre goers as it is cinephiles, echoing an obsessive adoration for American visuals. The Season flares the embers of an emotional production, without resorting to cheap tactics, it’s an interestingly written musical, with numbers which may not live forever in our minds, but there has been an impact with solo pieces, courtesy of Cardall’s humour and Allen-Martin’s commanding, emotive vocals. 

Right now, Last Christmas is a herald of current, modern Christmas media, but to find genuine innovation, turn to the theatre for The Season’s tribute’s to festive classics, while generating it’s own path with a fresher palette of relatable, human characters rather than the standard representations musical theatre is guilty of. It might be November, but sod-it, shove some vodka in the thermos, shake those snow globes and jingle them bells, The Season takes a dash of pessimism and fuels a show with fresh, snide joy which is infectiously warm, humourous and heartfelt. 

The Season runs at Royal & Derngate Theatre until November 30th. Tickets are available from: https://www.royalandderngate.co.uk/whats-on/the-season/

Photo Credit – Pamela Raith