Pride & Prejudice* (*Sort Of) (Criterion Theatre, London)
Verdict: Girl pride, without prejudice!
What a gorgeous paradox: a Pride & Prejudice that’s delightfully predictable and yet endlessly surprising.
First seen at Glasgow’s Tron Theatre in 2018, this show is the brilliant, all-female brainchild of Isobel McArthur, re-spinning the well-worn yarn of Jane Austen’s novel, ostensibly from the point of view of the servants.
Although completely faithful to the book, it’s also a raucously irreverent romp, related in Empire line dresses and Dr. Martens.
What a gorgeous paradox: a Pride & Prejudice that’s delightfully predictable and yet endlessly surprising
The ball at Meryton is where dashing Mr Darcy makes his debut. It serves Wagon Wheels as well as Irn-Bru.
Much of the sugar-laden, childlike joy lies with the way the cast conjure microphones from silver platters before bursting into karaoke caterwauling.
We kick off with Elvis Costello’s Every Day I Write The Book and The Shirelles’ Will You Love Me Tomorrow? before climaxing in a lovely rendition of Pulp’s sweetest song, Something Changed.
In between, the piece of resistance is Holding Out For A Hero (‘where have all the good men gone?’) and a very amusing snatch of Lady In Red (attributed to snooty Lady De Bourgh’s nephew ‘Chris’).
I found myself immersed in a story that I thought was my own.
First seen at Glasgow’s Tron Theatre in 2018, this show is the brilliant, all-female brainchild of Isobel McArthur, re-spinning the well-worn yarn of Jane Austen’s novel, ostensibly from the point of view of the servants
Although completely faithful to the book, it’s also a raucously irreverent romp, related in Empire line dresses and Dr. Martens
McArthur judiciously includes, amid the (sometimes blithely sweary) banter, Austen’s elegant gems, such as the one about heroine Lizzie being ‘so desperate to seem at ease that ease deserted her entirely’.
And the characters absolutely blaze on stage. McArthur plays the inscrutable Mr Darcy as a self-important stiff who’s satisfyingly redeemed.
Doubling up as Mrs Bennet, she also makes sense of that character’s anxiety about her daughters and adds an unexpected seam of Yorkshire wit.
The daughters themselves are a terrific team, with Jane (Christina Gordon) a loveable teenage romantic, Lydia (Tori Burgess) a wannabe WAG, and Lizzie (Meghan Tyler) a tall, strident Ulster girl who’s actually a teeny bit credulous.
And in a touching twist, Hannah Jarrett-Scott plays the Bennets’ friend Charlotte as Lizzie’s lovelorn admirer.
Improvised below a sweeping staircase packed with second-hand literature, there are moments that are genius. There is creepy Mr Collins being introduced after flushing the toilet; and Willy, a lifesize model horse for Jane to ride to Bingleys. (cue very racy humour).
Conceived by, and perhaps aimed at, younger women, this is nevertheless a show for all sexes and ages — in particular the young at heart.
(They might have even included the Bluebells chirpy number in the Karaoke.
Blue/Orange (Ustinov Studio Theatre Royal Bath)
Verdict: What’s the matter Doc?
In Joe Penhall’s blazing, blistering Blue/Orange, a junior psychiatrist and an older consultant slug it out over whether Christopher, a young black man who believes oranges are blue and that Idi Amin is his dad (it’s possible), should be discharged from an NHS hospital.
Conscientious Dr Flaherty thinks Chris has borderline personality disorder, possibly paranoid schizophrenia, and doesn’t want to risk him becoming dangerous.
Casually uncaring Dr Smith says there is a shortage of beds, suggests Chris’s problems are his ‘response to the human condition’ and that he is a victim of the medical establishment’s ‘ethnocentric’ bias towards mental illness in black men.
In Joe Penhall’s blazing, blistering Blue/Orange, a junior psychiatrist and an older consultant slug it out over whether Christopher, a young black man who believes oranges are blue and that Idi Amin is his dad (it’s possible), should be discharged from an NHS hospital
Conscientious Dr Flaherty thinks Chris has borderline personality disorder, possibly paranoid schizophrenia, and doesn’t want to risk him becoming dangerous
The play is brilliantly written and plays as a battleground. Words are used as weapons. Innocent phrases are resurrected and return like boomerangs. Edges sharpened to kill.
Perceptions have changed since the play was written in 2000, thanks to more discussion of mental health and the emergence of Black Lives Matter, which gives James Dacre’s powerfully performed revival the feel of a period piece.
It’s a shame, because the play still packs a powerful punch. Michael Balogun’s Christopher is compelling. He is hyper, buzzing, swaggering, and eager to leave the hospital one moment, and then he becomes coiled, cowed, and vulnerable the next.
Everyone else on the stage is a bit crazy. Could he be the most sane of them all?
A Christmas Carol (Nottingham Playhouse).
Verdict: Cheer trumps chills
The Christmas Carol season has started early . . . very early. First, this one adapted from Dickens’s story by Mark Gatiss, who also plays Jacob Marley opposite Nicholas Farrell as Scrooge.
Still to come, we have the Old Vic’s latest take, this time with Stephen Mangan playing the old misery; and there will no doubt be many more Ebenezers bah humbug-ing their way out of the woodwork before December 25.
Gatiss has sought to focus on the ghoulishness of the tale, which he may be alone in believing has been ‘undervalued’ as a ghost story.
And yet the result is no more ghostly than normal. Apart from showing Scrooge’s famously dead associate Marley briefly alive, the main innovation is the Ghost of Christmas Past looking like a rugby prop forward in a lacy white smock.
As the Ghost of Christmas Present, booming Joe Shire may be a little more forbidding than usual. But the last ghost is a standard-issue grim reaper.
Christmas Carol season has begun early. . . Very early. First, this one adapted from Dickens’s story by Mark Gatiss, who also plays Jacob Marley opposite Nicholas Farrell as Scrooge
Adam Penfold’s production lays on Hammer Horror gimmicks including spectral video projections and flying sheets.
But you’ve got your work cut out to make a tale as familiar as this seem creepy. So Paul Wills’s set design wisely packs in plenty of déjà vu.
He conjures Scrooge’s office with towers of dusty filing cabinets and video projections of smoking chimneys.
Gatiss is also available in League Of Gentlemen mode along with several other turns.
Farrell makes a sternly dyspeptic Scrooge, but he’s light on his feet, too; capable of a sprightly jig when he finally uncorks his seasonal jollity.
Carols at the end ensure that the evening is more about Christmas cheer and less about ghoulish chills.
But you may prefer to hold out for its run at London’s Alexandra Palace to enjoy as a midwinter warmer.
Brian & Roger (Mixing Room, Menier Chocolate Factory, London)
Verdict: Two peas and a podcast
Given the honour of opening an impressive new 150-seater space below Southwark’s boutique Menier Chocolate Factory theatre, meet Brian & Roger: two down-on-their-luck divorcees, and the stars of Harry Peacock and Dan Skinner’s cult comedy podcast.
Mousey Roger is now being evicted by his wife and moonlights as an ice cream man.
Dodgy Brian is living ‘in the shadows’ as a petty crook; mixed up in a rigged poker game with Albanian gangsters in a Wiltshire abattoir.
It’s a perfect mix of character comedy and a plot worthy of (the first) Hangover movie — except it’s all told through voicemail left on each other’s phones.
Stepping in for Peacock (who bowed out for health reasons), Simon Lipkin is brilliantly possessed as Brian the bastard — a dodgy bloke with a wobbly middle and thoroughly untrustworthy mateyness.
Dan Skinner’s beardy Roger, with his bomb-blast hair, is a loveably meek, endlessly forgiving doormat.
He is warned by his shrink that someone is manipulating his son, but he continues to be devoted to his shamed son and his cruel ex-wife.
David Babani’s often hilarious production showcases the new space with stunning video projections by Timothy Bird that take us from dreary London suburbs to Beijing’s red light district.
With very strong language and excruciating sexual antics, it won’t be everyone’s cuppa, but fans of the podcast should prepare to fight for a ticket. And I’m now one of them.