Pride and Prejudice * (* Sort Of) (Criterion Theater, London)
Verdict: Pride of a girl without prejudice!
What a magnificent paradox: a Pride and Prejudice deliciously predictable and yet infinitely surprising.
First seen at the Tron Theater in Glasgow in 2018, this show is the brilliant, all-female idea of Isobel McArthur, renewing the well-worn thread of Jane Austen’s novel, seemingly from a servant’s perspective.
While totally faithful to the book, it is also a harsh and irreverent frolic, tied to dresses from the Empire and Dr. Martens line.
What a magnificent paradox: a Pride and Prejudice deliciously predictable and yet infinitely surprising
The bullet in Meryton, where the dashing Mr. Darcy first appears, serves Wagon Wheels and Irn-Bru.
But much of the sugar-laden childish joy is in the way the actors conjure microphones from silver platters and then start to howl in karaoke.
We start with Every Day I Write The Book by Elvis Costello and Will You Love Me Tomorrow by the Shirelles? before culminating in a beautiful 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 funny clip from Lady In Red (attributed to Lady De Bourgh’s arrogant nephew, “Chris”).
And during that time, I found myself more and more immersed in a story that I thought I knew backwards.
First seen at Glasgow’s Tron Theater in 2018, this show is the brilliant all-female idea of Isobel McArthur, remaking the well-worn thread of Jane Austen’s novel, seemingly from a servant’s perspective.
While totally faithful to the book, it is also a harsh and irreverent frolic, recounted in dresses from the Empire and Dr. Martens line.
McArthur aptly includes, amid (sometimes happily sworn) jokes, Austen’s elegant gems, like that of the heroine Lizzie being “so desperate to seem at ease that ease has completely abandoned her.”
And the characters blaze positively on stage. McArthur plays the impenetrable Mr. Darcy as a smug stiff who is satisfactorily redeemed.
By dubbing the role of Mrs Bennet, she also makes sense of this character’s anxiety for her daughters and adds an unexpected touch of Yorkshire wit.
The girls themselves make a formidable team, with Jane (Christina Gordon) an adorable romantic teenager, Lydia (Tori Burgess) an aspiring WAG and Lizzie (Meghan Tyler) a tall, shrill Ulster girl who is actually a wee bit. credulous.
And in a touching twist, Hannah Jarrett-Scott plays Charlotte, the Bennets’ friend, as an admirer in love with Lizzie.
Improvised on and below a grand staircase filled with used books, there are moments of genius, including the frightening Mr. Collins presented with wet hands (after flushing the toilet); and a life-size model horse called Willy for Jane to go to the Bingleys (extremely racy humor).
Designed by and possibly aimed at younger women, it is nonetheless a show for all genders and ages, especially the young at heart.
(They might have even included that little Bluebell number in the karaoke.)
Blue / Orange (Ustinov Studio, Theater Royal Bath)
Verdict: What’s up, doctor?
In Joe Penhall’s Blazing and Searing Blue / Orange, a junior psychiatrist and an older consultant wonder if Christopher, a young black man who believes oranges are blue and Idi Amin is his father (it’s possible) , should be discharged from an NHS hospital.
The conscientious Dr Flaherty thinks Chris has borderline personality disorder, possibly paranoid schizophrenia, and doesn’t want to risk him becoming dangerous.
Casually indifferent, 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 and Searing Blue / Orange, a junior psychiatrist and an older consultant wonder if Christopher, a young black man who believes oranges are blue and Idi Amin is his father (it’s possible) , should be discharged from an NHS Hospital
Dutiful Dr Flaherty thinks Chris has borderline personality disorder, possibly paranoid schizophrenia, and doesn’t want to risk him becoming dangerous
The brilliantly written play is a battleground, with words used as weapons, innocent phrases resurrected and returning like boomerangs, sharp edges to kill.
Perceptions have changed since the play was written in 2000, thanks to more talk about mental health and the emergence of Black Lives Matter, which makes James Dacre’s powerfully performed revival feel like a play by era.
It’s a shame because the coin still has a powerful punch. Christopher by Michael Balogun is convincing. For a moment he’s hyper, buzzing, boastful, and anxious to leave the hospital; the next coiled up, intimidated and vulnerable.
But then everyone on stage is more than a little crazy. Would he make the most sense of all?
A Christmas Carol (Nottingham Playhouse)
Verdict: joy outweighs the chills
The Christmas carol season started early. . . very early. First of all, this one is adapted from the Dickensian story by Mark Gatiss, who also plays Jacob Marley opposite Nicholas Farrell as Scrooge.
Still to come, we have the last take of Old Vic, this time with Stephen Mangan playing old misery; and there will undoubtedly be a lot more Ebenezers bah coming out before December 25th.
Gatiss sought to focus on the macabre nature of the story, which he perhaps alone believes was “undervalued” as a ghost story.
And yet, the result is no more ghostly than normal. As well as briefly showing Scrooge’s famous late partner Marley alive, the main innovation is the Ghost of Christmas Past which looks like a forward rugby prop in a lacy white blouse.
As the Ghost of the Christmas Gift, Joe Shire’s boom can be a little more off-putting than usual. But the last ghost is a standard grim reaper.
The Christmas carol season started early. . . very early. First up, this one adapted from the Dickensian story by Mark Gatiss, who also plays Jacob Marley opposite Nicholas Farrell as Scrooge.
Adam Penford’s production relies on Hammer Horror gimmicks, including spectral video projections and loose leaves.
But you’ve got your work cut out for making a story as familiar as this one seem spooky. Thus, the scenography of Paul Wills is judiciously full of déjà vu.
It evokes Scrooge’s office with towers of dusty filing cabinets and video projections of smoking chimneys.
Gatiss also appears in League Of Gentlemen mode along with several other rounds.
Farrell has a severely dyspeptic Scrooge, but he’s also mild; capable of a playful jig when it finally uncovers its seasonal gaiety.
The carols at the end ensure the evening is more about Christmas cheer than macabre chills.
But you might prefer to wait for its run at Alexandra Palace in London to enjoy it as a winter warmer.
Brian & Roger (mixing room, Menier chocolate factory, London)
Verdict: Two peas in a podcast
Given the honor of opening an impressive new 150-seat space under Southwark’s Menier Chocolate Factory Theater, meet Brian & Roger: two hapless divorcees and the stars of Harry Peacock and Dan Skinner’s cult comedy podcast.
Mousey Roger has been kicked out by his wife and moonlights like a lollipop man.
Dodgy Brian lives “in the shadows” like a petty con artist; involved in a game of rigged poker with Albanian thugs at a slaughterhouse in Wiltshire.
It’s a perfect blend of character comedy and a plot worthy of the (first) Hangover movie – except it’s all told through the voicemail left on each other’s phones.
Replacing Peacock (who bowed for health reasons), Simon Lipkin is brilliantly possessed as Brian the Bastard – a sleazy dude with a wobbly middle and utterly untrustworthy camaraderie.
Dan Skinner’s bearded Roger, with his blast hair, is an adorably soft and endlessly forgiving doormat.
Warned by his shrink that someone is trying to manipulate him, he remains pitifully devoted to his embarrassed son and his ruthless ex-wife.
David Babani’s oft-hilarious production showcases the new space with stunning video projections by Timothy Bird that take us from the dreary London suburbs to Beijing’s red light district.
With very strong language and excruciating sexual antics, it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but fans of the podcast should be prepared to fight for a ticket. And I am now one of them.