The myth that Jane Austen’s novels are polite little works, focusing mainly on bonnets and soft-focus romance, is one that has always required to be blown out of the water, every decade or so. In fact, her novels draw their huge comic and narrative energy from the fact that they are about the nitty-gritty of love, sex and money, patriarchy and class, in a the brutally unequal society of early 19th century England; and that truth has rarely - if ever - been more clearly expressed than in Isobel McArthur brilliant 21st century stage adaptation Pride And Prejudice* (*sort of), created by young Glasgow company Blood Of the Young, and first seen at the Tron Theatre in 2018, in a sensational debut that led to a UK-wide tour, and a hugely successful run at the Lyceum in Edinburgh early this year.
There’s no way of transferring to the small screen the sheer theatrical energy of McArthur’s version, as six young contemporary women retell Austen’s story in McArthur’s brisk modern language, while playing every major role in the narrative, and delivering a superb karaoke score of well-known 20th and 21st century love-songs, which link the emotional experience of the Bennett sisters to our own with a sometimes shocking directness. McArthur’s own double performance as Mrs Bennett and Lizzie’s sultry admirer Mr Darcy was a stunning and sexy tour de force; Hannah Jarrett-Scott was unforgettable as both Mr Bingley and Lizzie’s passionate friend Charlotte Lucas; Christina Gordon somehow succeeded in doubling as sweet Jane and the ghastly Lady Catherine De Burgh; and our heroine, Lizzie Bennett, was played by rising star playwright and actor Meghan Tyler in inimitably scornful Northern Irish style. Indeed the terrific, subversive galaxy of British and Irish accents that swept through McArthur’s version was one of its continuous joys, in Paul Brotherston’s brilliant production, which also boasted a superb open set by Ana Ines Jabares-Pita lit by Simon Hayes, musical design by Michael John McCarthy, and choreography by Emily Jane Boyle.
What we can do, though - in this Scotsman Session recorded in a broom-cupboard in Glasgow - is to glimpse the sheer in-your-face challenge of the play’s opening, which launches itself into issues of class and power in Pride And Prejudice not only as they affect various ranks of gentlefolk, but as they bear down on the lives of the servants - always completely unnoticed, and almost always unnamed, as they shoulder the burden of maintaining the large country houses around which Austen’s narratives revolve, along with the clothes, health, communications and transport arrangements of the families who live in them.
Here, Hannah Jarrett-Scott and Christina Gordon play two of these nameless characters, introducing the story, and reflecting on their unnoticed and un-narrated lives, which have no love interest, and no endings at all, far less happy ones. As they reflect, though, they have a certain security, since their work is nothing if not essential. They also know more about their masters’ and mistresses’ lives than even the closest members of their own families; and they have, when the chips are down, seen absolutely everyone, naked.
For more on The Blood of the Young, see http://www.bloodoftheyoung.org
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