Pros: It’s clever, it’s funny and it’s probably the most original panto in town.
Cons: You don’t have to be an Austen expert to enjoy this show, but a vague prior understanding of the storyline will certainly help.
Girl meets boy. Boy thinks girl is barely tolerable. Girl thinks boy is a stuck-up git. A couple of hundred pages later, they’re married. If ever there was a piece of the literary cannon waiting to be turned into a pantomime, it surely was this one.
Pride and Prejudice: The Panto does absolutely everything the title promises. On the one hand, By Jove Theatre Company give us the story we know and love, albeit …ahem… slightly adapted. On the other hand, it’s also a full-blown pantomime complete with an audience-heckling Dame, a show-appropriate adaptation of Uptown Funk and general silliness. There’s very little not to love, and even the slightly less professional touches, like the rain sounds that cut out for half a second every time the track loops back to the beginning, just add to the overall hilarity of the evening.
Then again, that ‘make do’ feeling is often a much more suitable aesthetic for a pantomime than the whole three ring circus, West End glitter fest. In this case too, it only adds to the charm. So what if, rather than five Bennett sisters, we get three sisters and two hand-puppets? Shereen Roushbaiani plays all three younger girls (Mary in the flesh, Kitty and Lydia are puppets) with excellent comic timing and Rowan Atkinson-worthy eyebrow expression. And what if Mr Bingley is not actually a mouth-wateringly handsome gentleman, but a broomstick with sunglasses? Freya Evans, who ‘operates’ Bingley in her role as good fairy Jane Austen, somehow manages to give him quite the stage presence anyway. And character, even: never before has a broomstick so put me in mind of Prince Harry. Other standout performances are put in by James Walker-Black, playing a terrifyingly intense Mrs Bennett as well as a Lady Catherine de Bourgh with a hilariously dodgy Scottish accent, and Ella Garland, who makes for an extremely sleazy Wickham.
There’s a good balance of traditional panto elements and actual storytelling. Walker-Black in particular certainly relishes his moments of audience interaction, and it’s impossible not to be amused by the mortified faces of the two ‘volunteers’ who are forced to participate in a blind date game show (and occasionally get a nipple pinched by Mrs Bennett). All hilarity aside though, the scenes from the novel that the cast actually perform are just as great to watch, and there is a genuine tenderness to the interactions between SJ Brady’s Lizzie and Dannie Pye’s Darcy.
In terms of design there’s not a whole lot going on; there’s hardly any set to speak of and, although Mrs Bennett’s light-up hairdo is a sight to behold, the costumes definitely fall on the tamer side of the panto-scale. That hardly restricts the fun however, so the only criticism that I’m left with is that this show is on for a mere two more days and I don’t have time to go and see it again.
Authors: Heather Rimington and James Walker-Black
Based on the novel by: Jane Austen
Director: David Bullen
Producer: By Jove Theatre Company
Box Office: 020 7258 2925
Booking Link: http://thecockpit.org.uk/show/pride_prejudice_the_panto_0
Booking Until: 20 December 2015