Pride and Prejudice – the Panto!

Written by Jonathan Rowe
In celebration of the 200th Anniversary of Jane Austen's novel

Performed by St Luke's Church Players, December 2013

St Luke's Church Players present a Silver Jubilee Production of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE –THE PANTO! by Jonathan Rowe, freely adapted from the classic novel by Jane Austen. Celebrating St Luke's Church Players 25th Anniversary 1988 -2013 and the Bicentenary of the publication of Pride and Prejudice 1813 – 2013.

What is the mystery of Mrs Bennet's first name? What is Lady Catherine de Bourgh's terrible secret? Who is Mr Cuddles? Find out the answers in the new hilarious new pantomime based on Jane Austen's iconic novel.

Meet all the great characters – 'Dame' Mrs Bennet, handsome hero Mr Darcy, feisty heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, nasty Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Boo! Hiss!), not to mention Willy the incontinent Gangnam Style dancing dog!

At first sight, the adaptation of Jane Austen's genteelly incisive portrayal of the customs and mores of her time seems an unlikely subject for a pantomime. On second thoughts, however, the plot - the lives and loves of a group of lovable characters, their setbacks, mishaps and the dangers they can fall into, and of course a happy ending - can translate quite easily into the general pantomime format. Jonathan Rowe has done so in masterly fashion, liberally peppering Austen's story with modern references and local jokes - and, of course, songs; the perfectly fitting Love and Marriage is sung twice. Pride and Prejudice - the Panto: Mr Darcy proposes to Elizabeth Bennet while Lady Catherine de Bourgh looks on

Since much of the action of the book - and the panto - revolves around balls, dances also figure largely, and these are handled very well on what it actually quite a small stage. There's a nice variety of dances too, even a short take on Psy's Gangnam Style.

It's very difficult, and a little unfair, to single out specific people: the whole cast are accomplished and talented, and the singing is great. However, of particular note must be the traditional panto dame - Simon Williams as the fabulously histrionic and over-the-top Mrs Bennet, with colour co-ordination taken to its limit: matching orange and green striped stockings and eyelashes!

Then there's the villain of the piece, Gwyn Williams playing Lady Catherine de Bourgh, the Lady in red (and yes, we find out later her deceased husband was Christopher de Bourgh!), who turns out, hypocritically, to be from far less than noble stock. Pride and Prejudice - the Panto: Mr Darcy proposes to Elizabeth Bennet while Lady Catherine de Bourgh looks on

Henry Arnold makes a handsome and dashing Mr Darcy, and yes, that scene from the 1995 mini-series, where Darcy meets Elizabeth Bennet straight after swimming in the lake (although without the water, thankfully!) is included. Jenny Rowland is a spirited and independent Elizabeth, and Mark Plumley an excellently world-weary Mr Bennet: in a surprise denouement towards the end we find out his first name is Gordon!

And we can't possibly forget Mary Bennet's (Leanne Doman) gloriously off-key singing, and the antics of Willy the dog, realistically and very comically played by Linda Hole. Special mention must be made of Mannie Kinn for the most wooden performance of Miss Anne de Bourgh ever seen.

There are only two acts that don't quite work for me: Mrs Bennet's monologues during the introduction of the servants Tilly, Milly and Billy, which come across as too close to the bone to be truly funny, and the Cheeky Girls dance during the ball, which while suitable for the character of Lydia (Vicky Summerhayes), felt awkwardly out of place.

On the whole, though, the panto is a triumph, the humour risqué without being too bawdy, and reminiscent of the Carry On films, quintessentially British. The cast seemed to thoroughly enjoy themselves, and the laughter and audience participation was a delight. It may be difficult for Mr Rowe to top this one for next year's Yuletide treat!

© 2013 Joules Taylor