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Rating: 5 out of 5.

It is a truth universally acknowledged (see what we did there?) that Chief Correspondent Steven Smith has missed the West End theatre. We sent him along to the first night of the Jane Austen inspired Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of).

How wonderful it is to be back in the theatre. The excitement, the crowds of people eagerly waiting to be entertained…there is truly nothing quite like the glitz of London’s West End, and it is thrilling to see it coming back to life. But the arts need your support, and things are a long way from getting back to what they used to be. So, please go out and see a show or go to a gallery.

Opening at the Criterion Theatre on Tuesday night was Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of), written by, directed by and starring the uber-talented Isobel McArthur, whose Scottish sense of humour shines throughout this gem of a production. 

First, however, I have a confession. I really did not enjoy SIX. In fact, I would go so far as to say it is the Emperor’s New Clothes of contemporary theatre. Spice Girls karaoke with an inaccurate historical plot.

For that production, when all around me were giving standing ovations, I felt like I was losing my head: I was even a little numb. Is this what the theatre has become? Luckily, I found others who felt the same way, but we are a minority.

When confronted by five women on stage here, then, my heart sank. I felt that Jane Austen was going to be given the SIX treatment. Certainly, for the first five or so minutes, it looked like it was heading that way. Five actresses play young servant girls in the retelling of one of literature’s most famous stories, Pride and Prejudice. But this is a cast full of talent, as all five gender-bend, play the male and female characters convincingly, sing, and even play musical instruments. The show quickly pulls you in, and it is far removed from SIX. 

They could easily have slipped into panto mode with this vehicle, given a less talented cast. But instead, you find yourself belly laughing in admiration at the cast’s comic timing. Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) is witty, unique and everything that is great about the British theatre and the craft of acting.

It is hard to place this show in a specific genre, so let’s simply call it pure entertainment. Yes, there are musical numbers, which include pop classics such as Every Day I Write a Book, Young Hearts Run Free, Will You Love Me Tomorrow, I Got You Babe and You’re So Vain. These are brilliantly crafted into the show, yet it would be hard to call the show itself a musical. Isobel McArthur has created something new and well worth going to see. It is a show that will stay with you long after you leave the theatre.

A huge shout out to Hannah Jarret Scott (think k d lang meets Pink). She rules the stage from the minute she appears and manages to give a brilliant and unforgettable performance.

In Isobal McArthur I can confidently claim that a star is born. Her acting is worth the price of admission on its own. She plays Mrs Bennett with a sense of character that embraces both tragedy and comedy. Even the greats, such as Judi Dench and Julie Walters, would have stood and raised their hats. Equally, her Mr Darcy, though he never gets wet, exudes a powerful auto of strength and masculinity. The entire cast are to be commended for bringing a breath of fresh air to the West End. In short, this is one you shouldn’t miss.

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Steven Smith

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