This review was originally written for The Public Reviews.
Pride and Prejudice has been given the pantomime treatment by the young theatre company By Jove and the show has been revived to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the book’s original publication. It is easy to see Mrs Bennet as the obvious character to be played by a pantomime dame without much need of rewriting. And in this production, Elizabeth, Jane and Darcy remain largely unchanged, while Kitty and Lydia have been reduced to sock puppets on Mary’s hand.
The problem is the lack of a villain since Mr Collins is merely uninteresting and the morally dubious Wickham and opinionated Caroline Bingley do not feature enough in the story to be true pantomime villains. Hence an extra layer of characters has been created with the mildly contrived Charles Dickens as a scheming devil on Jane Austen’s shoulder introducing the negative elements to the story. This is effective in so far as satisfying the pantomime structure, but it is sometimes a distraction. However, it does enable the addition of more grown up literary lines as their scenes and exchanges are delivered in rhyming couplets.
Being an adult pantomime, there is no shortage of dirty jokes, delivered with gusto by the rightfully flamboyant Mrs Bennet, played by James Walker-Black. He is fun with his playful interaction with the mostly subdued audience, barring a sprinkling of rowdier and unruly ones. Despite the entertaining jokes and the enthusiasm of the actors, the atmosphere remains flat throughout. The little section of the TV show Take Me Out with the Bennets and the obligatory and extended Darcy wet shirt scene are very funny, but yet fail to lift the crowd.
The atmosphere may be attributed to the fact it was a Monday night and the space is slightly cavernous. The space has an effect on the music as the lack of amplification causes it to come across a little quaint and underwhelming. This is despite some great acoustic arrangement by Todd James such as I Gotta Feeling by Black Eyed Pea, appropriately for one of Mr Bingley’s balls.
The highlight of the cast is Chloe Wilcox as the downtrodden and socially awkward Mary Bennet and her sock puppets. While not overtly playing for laughs, Wilcox judges her clowning performance perfectly. Joe Feeney is ideal as Mr Darcy and David Bullen creates a suitably unappealing Mr Collins.
The show is good in many aspects which delights and amuses. But it fails to create that distinct pantomime atmosphere which is a pity. One can imagine the show would work much better in a more intimate venue such as White Bear Theatre in Kennington where the show had its first run. It certainly deserves another revival and perhaps celebrating many more landmark anniversaries.